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Atlantic Fellows: Advancing Fairer, Healthier, More Inclusive Societies

Resource type: News

Christopher G. Oechsli, President and CEO, The Atlantic Philanthropies |

From their inception, The Atlantic Philanthropies have invested in people and in their vision, opportunity and ability to realize a better world. When Chuck Feeney established the foundation in 1982, its first grant was $7 million to Cornell University to create the Cornell Tradition, a need-based work-study program for outstanding undergraduates committed to community and public service.

As we make our final grants this year, over three decades later, we continue to draw inspiration from Chuck’s vision expressed in that first big philanthropic bet, while expanding upon its size, scope and reach.

The Atlantic Fellows program will bring thousands of dedicated and courageous people together to advance fairer, healthier and more inclusive societies.

I am delighted to announce two major initiatives that will deepen and extend Atlantic’s legacy of supporting new generations of leaders who will improve lives and forge new opportunities around the world.

These two grants, a combined investment of nearly $200 million, are the latest in a series of big bets on an interconnected set of fellowship programs — the Atlantic Fellows — designed to address some of the world’s most critical challenges. Our vision for the Atlantic Fellows programs is to empower and connect dynamic individuals who are committed to working together across disciplines and borders to advance fairer, healthier and more inclusive societies.

In total, The Atlantic Philanthropies will invest more than $600 million over the next two decades in building a global network of thousands of Atlantic Fellows, and the institutions that support and nurture them. This substantial investment is not only the foundation’s biggest bet ever, but a final promise to dedicate our remaining resources to supporting people with the courage, conviction and capacity to produce systemic change that promotes fairness, opportunity, dignity and inclusion, benefiting particularly those who face unfair disadvantages and vulnerabilities.

International Inequalities Institute at the London School of Economics

The International Inequalities Institute at LSE works to understand why inequalities are escalating in numerous arenas across the world, and to develop critical tools to address these challenges.
The International Inequalities Institute at LSE is working to understand and address escalating inequalities around the world.

The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), one of the foremost social science universities in the world, is receiving a £64.4 million ($91 million) grant to establish an Atlantic Fellows program at its recently created International Inequalities Institute. This 20-year initiative will train and sustain diverse, multidisciplinary leaders working on solutions to historical barriers and behaviors that obstruct opportunity and underpin inequalities globally.

Enhancing fair and equal opportunity has long been core to Chuck Feeney’s values and the foundation’s mission. For over three decades, our work on five continents has focused largely on challenging and combating systemic and structural inequalities and bringing lasting improvements to those who experience bias and barriers to advancement — in health, education and rights. With partners like LSE, whose motto is Rerum cognoscere causas — “to know the causes of things,” we seek to understand and, as importantly, address the causes of unhealthy and unequal societies. Inequity adversely impacts individuals and entire communities by compromising their potential and, indeed, their humanity. These limitations are reflected in, but extend well beyond, unequal and unfair creation of material wealth. They are evident in historic and embedded discrimination based on gender, race, age, ethnicity, and other imposed labels that create segregated and biased societies. These destructive distinctions not only hinder the vitality and viability of individual opportunity and achievement, they undermine the health and cohesiveness of entire communities and nations.

The International Inequalities Institute builds on an established record of developing and drawing on leading global visionaries, such as Tony Atkinson and Thomas Piketty, who have focused global attention on the threat inequality in all its forms poses to healthy societies. The Atlantic Fellows program will draw on LSE’s international faculty and work in close collaboration with other global partner institutions, including the University of Cape Town’s Poverty and Inequality Initiative in South Africa and Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. The Atlantic Fellows at the International Inequalities Institute — social scientists, activists, artists, journalists, health professionals, entrepreneurs, lawyers and others — will broaden and deepen their experience, apply their insights to improve outcomes for those facing disadvantage and social exclusion, and build and sustain a global community of changemakers.

The Atlantic Institute

The Atlantic Institute is based at Rhodes House at Oxford University.
The Atlantic Institute at Oxford’s Rhodes House will serve as a hub for all Atlantic Fellows.

Our other new major initiative is a £75 million ($106 million) grant to the Rhodes Trust at Oxford University to create the Atlantic Institute, which will serve as an independent convening, knowledge and experience-sharing hub for all of our Atlantic Fellows. Its purpose is to support collaboration across the several Atlantic Fellows programs leading to outcomes greater than any single individual or program could achieve on its own. Through the Atlantic Institute, we intend to build, support and strengthen an international community of emerging leaders.

For more than a century, the Rhodes Trust has been dedicated to fostering public service among young, diverse international scholars committed to serving others and bettering society. The Trust has also partnered with other global fellowship and scholar programs, such as the Mandela Rhodes Foundation, to extend its efforts to build exceptional and ethical leadership. This experience and dedication to amplifying the impact of the existing network of Rhodes Scholars make the Trust an ideal partner to connect and strengthen Atlantic Fellows programs throughout the world.

In keeping with that goal, this grant includes support for Rhodes Scholars drawn from the regions and fields where The Atlantic Philanthropies have operated, as well as funding for an expanded convening space at Rhodes House and annual innovation prizes for Atlantic Fellows and alumni to develop and implement particularly creative and effective ideas.

The Atlantic Fellows

Atlantic’s series of final big bet grants aim for significant, lasting results.

These two new initiatives are our latest and biggest bets on people, and on their prospects for advancing systemic change, on issues and in places that have been central to The Atlantic Philanthropies. Additional programs are still being developed and will be announced in the coming months.

Our previous investments in this growing global constellation of Atlantic Fellows include $40 million for a 20-year fellowship initiative, in partnership with the China Medical Board, that seeks to dramatically reduce disparities in health access and quality of care in Southeast Asia. A separate $177 million grant launched Atlantic Fellows at the Global Brain Health Institute (GBHI), a joint venture of the University of California, San Francisco and Trinity College Dublin to improve the practice of dementia care and shape the societal and environmental forces that affect neurocognitive health.

The inaugural cohorts for both these programs provide compelling examples of what makes an Atlantic Fellow: fierce logic and compassion combined with trailblazing talent to achieve lasting impact.

Take, for instance, Lina Velilla Jiménez, a new Atlantic Fellow at GBHI. After working with the families in her native Colombia who comprise the world’s largest population with early Alzheimer’s disease, Lina saw the critical need to reduce the psychosocial impact of dementia on people affected by it. She is now designing an epidemiological surveillance system to detect risk and protection factors associated with mild cognitive impairment and dementia, developing training programs for primary care providers in areas with limited access to specialized health care, and organizing gerontology and home care education for caregivers, with access to artistic training programs and other projects to improve their quality of life.

And there’s Nila Tanzil, founder of Rainbow Reading Gardens, a nongovernmental organization focused on children’s literacy that provides access to books to children living in remote areas of Eastern Indonesia. Over the past six years, she has built 39 children’s libraries across 14 islands, benefiting over 10,000 children and distributing more than 60,000 books. Through her work, Nila — now one of the inspiring Atlantic Fellows at the Equity Initiative in Southeast Asia — is reminding us that health disparities are not always merely medical and that healthy minds and communities begin with access to education and encouragement.

What’s in a Name?

Historically, The Atlantic Philanthropies have reflected the values of Chuck Feeney, our founder, by avoiding the use of Chuck’s or Atlantic’s name in the projects in which we have invested. Our reasoning has been that this diverts attention from the people and institutions that we support. When we began to alter our policy of strict anonymity for all of our grantmaking in the late 1990s, our grantees asked if the Atlantic name could be referenced if it brought value to their work and improved their prospects for impact. Most often, we agreed.

As we conclude our grantmaking, we again have taken counsel from our grantees and colleagues on naming this global fellowship program. Their strong consensus is that linking the global community of Atlantic Fellows through a shared name, and connecting the programs through an Atlantic Institute, would help foster a sense of active community and enhance collaboration and impact.

We hope, too, that it will stand for the values that Chuck Feeney has stood for and lived by—and which have been deeply embedded in his foundation’s work — while respecting his desire to keep the focus on that work rather than himself.

‘It’s Always People’

“Use your wealth to help people. Use your wealth to create institutions to help people,” Chuck has said, summarizing his philanthropic motivation. “When it comes down to it, it’s always people.”

At Atlantic, we believe that investing in the people who will build a better future is the highest and best use of our remaining time and funds. We are concluding our grantmaking much the way we began and have operated ever since: investing in effective, durable vanguard institutions to empower and support those who are motivated to act and influence others to improve the human condition.

Christopher G. Oechsli, President and CEO, The Atlantic Philanthropies

Best Regards,


Christopher G. Oechsli
President and CEO


Photo: Carmen Holt; Camella Wilson, researcher at UCSF Medical School.