A privately-backed $100 million foundation to fund "high impact" environmental and education projects has been launched in Auckland.

The Next Foundation, to be chaired by leading businessman Chris Liddell, will fund a handful of projects in the next 10 years which promise legacy benefits in education and conservation for future generations.

The fund is backed by retired Northland couple Neal and Annette Plowman, the philanthropists best known for the restoration of Rotoroa Island, in the Hauraki Gulf, into a conservation park with educational spinoffs. They have supported a number of other environmental and education projects, ranging from Abel Tasman National Park to the Auckland University Business School.

The foundation will seek expressions of interest from anyone with big ideas but will expect a business-like focus on results and solid management, Mr Liddell told the foundation launch in Auckland. Mr Liddell, the New York-based former finance boss of Microsoft and General Motors, said education and the environment were two key areas where initiatives could bring lasting benefits for New Zealand in an increasingly competitive world.


Projects would need to be large-scale and aim to have a broad impact, a clear plan to deliver and be well-managed. Expressions of interest are likely to be sought mid-year with the first projects underway by the end of the year.

Mr Liddell praised the Plowmans as a family who started with nothing, created wealth and have since sought to make New Zealand a better place. The Plowmans owned NZ Towel Supply, a company started by Neal Plowman's grandfather George in 1910, until its sale to an American firm in the early-1990s.

Prime Minister John Key welcomed the initiative, telling the launch the Government couldn't do everything and the private sector and philanthropy filled important gaps.

He told the Plowmans: "We are lucky to have people like you who not only have immense generosity but a vision for what they want New Zealand to be."