30 Years of Giving While Living: Our Final Chapter
Christopher G. Oechsli, President and CEO, The Atlantic Philanthropies10 July 2012
At The Atlantic Philanthropies, we are celebrating our 30th anniversary this year and, to date, we have invested over $6 billion in grants around the world.
As many of you know, we will complete grantmaking by the end of 2016. After that, we will make final payments, monitor ongoing grants and evaluate and share our experiences to enhance our grantees' work.
We hope in that period to realise our founder's intention — to put to good philanthropic purpose an endowment created by his life's work and to promote Giving While Living as an approach for those who have accumulated wealth to make a difference, sooner rather than later.
There is much to be proud of, thanks to the work of our outstanding grantees. Over 30 years, there have been thousands of success stories. Grantees have:
- Promoted reconciliation and peace in Northern Ireland and South Africa
- Transformed key university infrastructure and research capacity in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, South Africa and the United States
- Successfully campaigned to abolish the juvenile death penalty in the United States and to abolish the death penalty in five states, with further significant prospects underway
- Advanced same-sex civil partnerships in the Republic of Ireland and gay marriage in South Africa
- Transformed major health care facilities and enhanced health care system practices to measurably improve and save lives in Viet Nam
- Strengthened world-class biomedical research in Australia
- Changed the perception of HIV/AIDS and secured access to antiretrovirals for millions of people in South Africa
- Recovered billions of dollars in unclaimed government benefits for over two million older adults in the United States and Northern Ireland
- Strengthened civil society organisations and philanthropy in Bermuda
- Fought to secure health care for children in the United States
- Transformed end-of-life care in the Republic of Ireland.
But there is still much left to do. As a limited life foundation, we need to be disciplined as we plan for a successful closing chapter.
We have just completed a thorough review of our programme work. To ensure that we are focused and effective in our remaining years, we considered our experience and whether there is an opportunity for our final investments to have a transformative impact. In the course of this effort, we necessarily have been somewhat introspective.
I think it is important now to share our process and reflections with you and describe — in this letter and on our website — what will be our key priorities going forward.
Investing in Lasting Improvements
First, I'd like to give some historical context. Atlantic has grown and evolved over its 30-year history.
Our work is rooted in the amalgam of the interests and initiatives of our founder, Charles F. Feeney; our Board's efforts to frame these strategically; the contributions of successive management and programme leaders; and, very importantly, what we have learned from our grantees and their impact.
Yet for all its diverse sources and evolutionary character, Atlantic's work has reflected a consistency of values and subject matter. We have been, and remain today, focused on a desire to build opportunity for those who have had limited access to it, or whose contributions have been undervalued — to make lasting changes in the lives of disadvantaged and vulnerable people.
Our mission is manifested through our core programmes, which have remained constant: ageing, children and youth, health, and reconciliation and human rights, as well as through our Founding Chairman grants. At the heart of our work are the values of opportunity, equity and dignity.
Atlantic has made grants through these programmes in seven regions, each of them selected for the opportunities they presented for meaningful change. Our work has spanned from building lasting improvements — capital projects that have transformed lives and changes in policies and systems that have expanded opportunities — to strengthening the capacity to promote and advocate for change.
We have supported institutions that make discoveries, develop innovations and share ideas, as well as community-based organisations that marshal the voice and efforts of people seeking to improve their lives.
Sharpening Our Focus as We Conclude Grantmaking
Atlantic's resources, while large by some measures, are extremely limited in comparison to the needs and opportunities.
Our choices of grantees are likewise limited. We are unable to support all worthwhile organisations and efforts, even those that may be closely aligned with our programme objectives. As we approach our final years, these limitations are becoming more evident and more acute, and require that we make difficult choices.
We will complete our grantmaking in stages, at different paces in different geographies and within different programme objectives.
Not all programme work will continue to 2016.
Timing will be determined by our assessment of how best to conclude all of our grantmaking and will include such considerations as:
- where the best opportunities are to have maximum impact within our time and resource limits
- whether significant change has been achieved and its prospects for sustainability are good
- the ability to culminate our work effectively.
Inevitably, Atlantic will complete its grantmaking in areas where work remains to be done, but we hope our support will have achieved and continue to contribute to measurable and lasting progress. We aim to do this while also minimising disruption to those grantees that may have been reliant on our financial support.
We will work with our grantees to help plan for life after Atlantic and, where possible and appropriate, to strengthen their prospects for sustainability. No one approach will fit all our grantee relationships but we are committed to being as direct, clear, respectful and thoughtful as possible.
While we know that we must retain some flexibility to be opportunistic, we will nevertheless need to hew closely to our core programme objectives and experiences to be most effective.
Our founder has said he wants to bounce his last check, but we don't intend to do so. We will thoughtfully and regularly recalibrate our financial budgets as we balance planning and opportunity with our endowment returns.
Sharing Lessons Learned
Where possible, we will try to build upon the experience and achievements of our grantees through communication, dissemination and more linkages.
We will strive to share our own experience as grantmakers with those who wish to learn from our successes and failures.
Atlantic is committed to our founder's instruction to put all of our remaining funds to the "highest and best use." With your continued help and understanding, we hope to do just that. We look forward to working with you and hearing from you, soon and in the coming years, as we work to maximise impact in our areas of mutual interest.
Christopher G. Oechsli
President and CEO
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