Chuck Feeney had several things on his to-do list on a return visit to Australia in the late 1990s. One was to explore opportunities to develop resort properties. As was his habit everywhere he traveled, he also kept his eyes open for possible Atlantic investments. The rugged and overlooked country, with its can-do attitude reminded Feeney of Ireland, where Atlantic had already started to do work in education and health to great effect. It was a country of high intellectual capital that was, at the time, undervalued. He saw that there was room for elevation.
Something about Queensland—the people and their ambition to doff their “underdog” label—drew Feeney especially to that state. He learned about the needs of the University of Queensland (UQ), Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and the then Queensland Institute of Medical Research (QIMR), all based in Brisbane. The three institutions had all the right ingredients for an Atlantic investment: bright students and faculty, ambitious development ideas, smart leaders and scarce resources. With no alumni gift system, the universities relied on government grants for support. Feeney saw an opportunity to make a huge impact: Atlantic’s first grant to UQ in 1998—for US$6.3 million—was used to leverage US$33.6 million from the government and became a prototype for future grants.
Atlantic’s mark was felt in more than just Queensland. Grants were also made to support projects in New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania. Describing the Atlantic-supported Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in a suburb of Melbourne, Professor Suzanne Cory, former director, said that the facility “enabled me to bring in new teams in biomathematics, proteomics and structural biology—enormous strengths for our research. Those people would not have joined up, and may even have gone overseas, had I not been able to develop out those labs further here.”
Once known for beaches, this Queensland city is now known for brains
Feeney heard that three higher learning institutions in Brisbane were vying for funds to improve their science research facilities. So in late 2008, he approached the federal government with a rare deal: Atlantic would provide half of the more than US$156 million needed if the government provided the other half by December 31, 2009. It worked: grants totaling US$132 million from government were announced that May and Atlantic kept its original pledge of $US69 million—then the largest single donation in the nation’s history.
By the end of 2015, the number of new research institutes in Queensland had grown to 36, including the Translational Research Institute (TRI), a unique collaboration among the UQ’s School of Medicine and Diamantina Institute, QUT’s Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation, Mater Medical Research Institute and Princess Alexandra Hospital’s Centres for Health Research. Australia’s first “bench-to-bedside” medical research facility, TRI established by world-renowned immunologist, Ian Frazer, who had developed a cervical cancer vaccine. TRI conducts research for treatments and cures for cancers, diabetes, HIV and inflammatory disease.
“Before Atlantic came with this investment in bioscience and research, Queensland was largely beaches.” — Peter Beattie, former Premier of Queensland, Australia
Inspiring a Philanthropic Culture
Encouraging emerging philanthropists through giving networks
Never one for the spotlight, Feeney decided to leverage his own philanthropy philosophy in Australia to inspire high net-worth individuals to consider Giving While Living. “Chuck set an admirable and inspiring example for others,” said Peter Coaldrake, QUT’s Vice Chancellor and CEO. Accordingly, Clive Berghofer, an Australian property developer, gave A$50 million to Queensland Institute of Medical Research. “I’d like to think that philanthropy will continue to grow in Australia, thanks to Chuck,” said Professor Cory. “I’m confident, however, that science will continue to grow in Australia because of his generosity.”