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Celebrating Our Common Journey: CEO Update

Resource type: News

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

Pride isn’t a term we like to associate with philanthropy. Indeed, it’s often considered the worst of the seven deadly sins. But I want to share with you my extraordinary sense of pride recently when the Atlantic Philanthropies staff gathered in New York to reflect on, honor and celebrate the work and accomplishments of our grantees and colleagues in the countries where we will soon be making our last programme grants—Bermuda, South Africa and Viet Nam.

The Atlantic Philanthropies Staff 2013

As I described in my letter from June of this year, we continue on the trajectory our founder, Chuck Feeney, and Board set in 2002: To conclude Atlantic’s grantmaking by 2016 and, in the time remaining, to address the most pressing challenges in the programmes and in the countries in which we have historically worked. Our goals for the next few years remain equally constant and consistent: To maximise Atlantic’s and our grantees’ impact in the very short term so that they, and we, can foster lasting change for the most vulnerable in these fields and places. So, as a limited life philanthropy facing our own organisational end of life, our sense of mission and urgency is palpable.

Reflecting On Our Collective Achievements

Rarely, if ever, has that sense of urgent mission, and yes, pride been more palpable than when our staff came together in late October to look back on what has been and continues to be achieved by our grantees, colleagues and partners in what we call our “closing geographies:”

  • In Bermuda, fostering a more robust NGO and philanthropic sector poised to create a more civil and equitable society
  • In South Africa, promoting and activating essential values of dignity, peace, reconciliation, restorative justice, democracy and the right to health that epitomise the life and spirit of Nelson Mandela
  • In Viet Nam, sparking higher education, better health care and public health for people too long deprived of those fundamental public goods.

Unless one takes a moment to step back, as we did in October and again with our Board last week, and look at almost three decades of collective, collaborative work by Atlantic grantees and colleagues in and across these countries, we can sometimes lose the forest for the trees and miss how extraordinary the transformation has been. In our closing years, we will be doing more such assessments, both informal and formal, of the impact of our work together, and sharing them with you.

Our Culminating Work

But our sense of urgency is activated by knowing that, to paraphrase the American poet Robert Frost, Atlantic still has some miles to go before we sleep. We will be making our final programme grants in our remaining geographies—Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and the United States—next year, in 2014. Many of Atlantic’s grantees, colleagues and funding partners have asked the obvious question: “If core grantmaking in all the places in which Atlantic has worked will be completed by next year, but Atlantic isn’t concluding its grantmaking until 2016, what funds will it have and what else will it be doing between now and then?”

To answer that question, yes, we have funds to allocate beyond those targeted to core grantmaking in our closing geographies. These funds are neither unexpected nor have they recently materialised; indeed, we have intentionally and carefully planned for them. Our objective is to use those funds, and other sources of influence, to maximise prospects for lasting, systemic change that will improve the lives of vulnerable and disadvantaged people in the places in which we work and across those geographic boundaries.

The lens through which we decide on these culminating investments, of which there will be few, is that they must:

  • Build on Atlantic’s experiences and strengths and leverage those comparative advantages
  • Be big (in terms of lasting impact) and distinctive
  • Be feasible
  • Be ripe for accomplishment within a reasonable time frame
  • Be sustainable over the long term.

I recognise that many good ideas for Atlantic’s culminating investments might fit within the objectives and criteria I’ve cited above. However, we will be carefully exploring these opportunities within Atlantic’s global context over the next three years and, in keeping with our common practice, we will not be considering unsolicited proposals.

My sense of pride in what you, our grantees and colleagues, have achieved together over the last 30 years is coupled with the sense of humility that Chuck has instilled in all of us—that there are big problems still to be solved, challenges to address, changes to be made, that the sea is wide, our boat small, our journey fixed and brief. We look forward eagerly to navigating those seas, and walking those miles, with you.

Our best wishes for the holidays and for the new year.


Christopher G. Oechsli
President and CEO