A tribute to Charles “Chuck” Feeney from the Atlantic Institute

The Atlantic Institute is deeply saddened by the death of the founder of The Atlantic Philanthropies, Charles Chuck Feeney. We are thankful for his vision, immense generosity and his lasting legacy. We offer our deep condolences to his wife Helga, family and friends. 

Born in 1931 to Irish-American parents in New Jersey in the United States, Chuck Feeney became a billionaire largely by co-founding DFS, (Duty Free Shoppers) a luxury goods retailer. Amassing vast wealth, he decided to devote his $8billion fortune to helping others.

“I had one idea that never changed in my mind —that you should use your wealth to help people”, he said.

To that end, he founded The Atlantic Philanthropies in 1982 which over the next 35 years, invested US $8 billion to advance opportunity and promote equity and dignity around the world.

President and CEO of Atlantic Philanthropies Christopher G. Oechsli said, “Chuck was as passionate about making a positive difference in the lives of others as he was about being successful at business”.

Through Atlantic Philanthropies, Chuck funded Atlantic Fellows, regarding the establishment of seven global equity-focussed programs as the ‘last big bet’. The global Atlantic Fellows community was forged from a series of large grants to produce significant, long-lasting solutions to reduce inequities and advance fairer, healthier, more inclusive societies. All leaders in their own communities, Fellows from diverse disciplines and perspectives who lived in places where Chuck had long been involved would be supported to work collectively, across differences for greater impact, locally, regionally and globally.

Of all Chuck’s attributes, he was renowned for humility and, in particular, his empathy and kindness. Although he did not like the spotlight, his impact on the world has been immense. The growing Atlantic community now has 899 Atlantic Fellows (741 Global Atlantic Fellows who have completed one of the seven programs and 158 current Fellows), who are active in 80 countries. Over the next two decades, that number will increase to 2,700. Additionally, there are 125 staff from the programs and the Atlantic Institute working in a myriad of ways to support the Fellows.

The Fellows and the communities they serve worldwide will forever be grateful to Chuck for his investment in them. Atlantic Fellows have to date received over 300 grants worth in excess of£1,600,000 from the Atlantic Institute to improve the lives and conditions of people in communities experiencing significant health and social inequalities. The money has also allowed vital health, COVID-19 and equity-focused information that reached millions of people. 

Atlantic Fellows projects, funded and supported by the Institute, have also brought benefits to more than23,000 people living in remote or vulnerable communities and have garnered recognition worldwide.

Kritaya Sreesunpagit, Atlantic Fellow for Health Equity in Southeast Asia, said: “When I think about Chuck Feeney, I really appreciate his humility and his respect for the people. The fact that when he gave, he gave generously and then he stepped back and let the experts do their own thing in their own way.”

Cristiano Schaffer Aguzzoli, Atlantic Fellow for Equity in Brain Health, said: “Chuck Feeney enabled connections between people who care about neurodegenerative disorders and dementia, but who otherwise wouldn't be able to connect. And I think this connection is paramount to improving the brain health inequalities around the world. From my own work perspective, I think the Atlantic Fellows for Equity in Brain Health open the vast spectrum of possibilities and opportunities that will help me to reduce the impact of dementia not only in my hometown community but also around the world.” 

Shehnaz Munshi, Atlantic Fellow for Health Equity in South Africa, said: “I've been connected to this incredible community of people who come from spaces and places where historic injustices have occurred in a unique way where we can bring our full selves. Through the fellowship and through the investment of this money dreamed into existence a new body of knowledge around decoloniality and health from the African continent.” 

Nō reira e te rangatira, moemai, moe mai, moe mai ra.

Rest in love and peace, Chuck. Your work on this earth is done but your legacy will continue for many years to come.    

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