A message from Chris Oechsli, CEO of The Atlantic Philanthropies

In 2002, Chuck Feeney and the Atlantic Foundation directors made the decision to complete the foundation’s grant making by the end of 2016 and conclude all operations by the end of 2020.  In 2012-13, as we neared the end of grantmaking, we deliberated with many Atlantic grantees and colleagues on how to have the greatest impact and influence on the themes and issues, and in the regions, that have been of historic interest to Atlantic.  Many of you were central to those discussions.  The result is Atlantic’s investment of over $650 million in the Atlantic Fellows - emerging and effective values based leaders who, working across professions and communities, will make the world a fairer place.   

Tumultuous political and social winds in the US, UK, South Africa and beyond, with recent manifestations such as Manchester, Brexit, the Zuma era and the US presidential election; and the changing regional and global social and economic dynamics emanating from the Asia-Pacific region; all underscore global deficits in moral vision and leadership.  The Atlantic Fellowship Program leaders and colleagues have taken up the ambitious challenge to address those deficits.  You have begun this journey as highly motivated and experienced individuals committed to building a regional and global community that will address those needs.  Those of you joining us as our first fellows have already demonstrated your commitment and talent to build a more equitable world, and we look to you as co-creators of a truly transformational community.

I struggle to say if it is for Atlantic or for Chuck Feeney to thank you for what you do as we are, like you, stewards of a privilege and a commitment to make a difference in the world.  But those of us at Atlantic who work with you have a deep gratitude for your work, for being part of this community, and for our opportunity to participate in this undertaking.

My basic request is that we not lose sight that we are all in service of the effort to equip our fellows with the strength, skill and resilience that will empower them to make a difference.  It is not about us.  It is ultimately about how we empower fellows and their fellow travelers to be influential agents for the outcomes to which we aspire.  Even as we advance our programs, we are waiting for the voices and contributions of our fellows to fully emerge.  We have much to learn.

At a recent meeting of the GBHI Governing Board in Dublin, I passed by a marker celebrating the great iconoclastic wit, Oscar Wilde.  Three of his quotes on that Merrion Square Park marker resonated as thoughts relevant to our community:

“Most people are other people.”  We are diverse.  From that diversity, we can model the message of inclusivity among ourselves and the experience we offer to our fellows.

 “Whenever people agree with me I always feel I must be wrong.”  Our passion and experience invite us to lead with what we know, yet we aspire to remain open to the thoughts and insights of others.

 “The well-bred contradict other people.  The wise contradict themselves.”  The challenges we seek to address are complex and full of contradictions.  We and our fellows must be able to hold these complexities and contradictions while adhering to our fundamental values and goals.  It is a difficult dynamic that is at the root of how one achieves desired social change.

Execution is the chariot of genius.  Our ideas and aspirations will not advance without the basic mechanisms of our work.  Our immediate respective and collective tasks include operationalizing programs; exploring how to leverage and connect ourselves in ways that transcend our individual areas of expertise; and finding specific effective ways to build a community of change makers who will bend the arc of history towards a more just and equal world.  Those of you who are our first Fellows have much to teach us in this work. Our hope is that the Atlantic Institute will provide resources and support to hold up and advance the aspirations of this community in specific and tangible ways.  Yet, just as each program is in an early start-up phase, so, too, is the Atlantic Institute.  We must be patient with our collective efforts to execute on our vision, even as we retain our impatience to advance and realize change. 

This first newsletter marks another phase in our progress.  As I hear from and interact with many of you, my excitement for the emerging prospects only grows.  There is so much to do; so much to look forward to.  But we’ve come a long way from 2012.