Big Questions

Why Did You Invest So Much in Buildings?

Philanthropic support for a building is a tangible investment in enterprise, a "concrete," long-term underwriting of what goes on inside and around the structure and, most importantly, in the people who inhabit it. As Atlantic Founder Chuck Feeney has said, “Good buildings for good minds can make the difference in the lives of a lot of people.”

Atlantic invested more than $2.5 billion in buildings largely because of Feeney’s belief in Giving While Living—that the wealthy should use their money for good causes during their lifetime. Matthew Bishop, Editorial Director of New Initiatives for The Economist, who has written on this topic, notes, “The best building projects are among the most effective ways to deploy large sums of money quickly while delivering benefits to society that can continue to flow for many decades.”

VIETNAM. Nha Trang. Khanh Hoa Commune Health Center.
Atlantic invested millions in the planning, reconstruction, and enrichment of commune health centers in Viet Nam. By 2014, more than 940 centers in eight provinces are available to serve more than nine million people.

Acknowledging the breadth and different purposes of Atlantic’s building projects on five continents, Christopher G. Oechsli, president and chief executive officer, notes that they “have always been about the people who dreamed them and who inhabit them: the leaders, innovators, scientists, educators, medical doctors, nurses, students, patients, social workers, community and rights activists, athletes, thespians, musicians and audiences. The buildings are intended to house and serve young, vulnerable children; curious and aspiring youth; engaged professionals and dignified elders. These buildings and the activities they house are central to lifting up entire communities, and, yes, even nations.”

Atlantic often made its grants for buildings contingent on other donors matching the foundation’s award. As an incentive, they received naming rights. That strategy has worked well, with Atlantic’s requirements generating three times as much in matching funds, and sometimes more.

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