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Honouring a Shy Philanthropy Hero

Resource type: News

Inyathelo: The South African Institute for Advancement | [ View Original Source (opens in new window) ]

By Shelagh Gastrow

Charles “Chuck” Feeney is likely the most famous and influential billionaire you’ve never heard of. His foundation, Atlantic Philanthropies, has given billions of Rands to our emerging South African democracy. Inyathelo was privileged to award him the 2014 Inyathelo “Lifetime Philanthropy Award for Giving While Living. Executive Director of Inyathelo, Shelagh Gastrow, gave a special tribute to Mr. Feeney at the awards ceremony, which we include below.

Eleven other extraordinary individuals were honoured as well. We hope find their stories as compelling and uplifting as we did (watch on YouTube).

More than anything, philanthropy is about sharing, and This years philanthropy awardees have shared some wonderful stories of philanthropy in action.

Something philanthropists have in common is an impulse, or a spark to do good, and that good can take many forms Our awardees are beacons for the people around them. Their actions show us what is possible. They show us that philanthropy is encapsulated in the smallest act, as well as the largest gesture.

As large gestures, Mr Charles Chuck Feeney, 2014 Inyathelo Lifetime Philanthropy Awardee for Giving while Living, has certainly has made some pretty large ones. Probably the greatest philanthropist you might never have heard of, and one of the most generous people of our time, Mr Feeney has invested approximately $350 million dollars in the South African dream. In addition to this, contributions have been made to other countries around the world totalling around $6,5 billion.

Possibly more important than the money though, is the way it’s been given. Charles Feeney revolutionized the idea of philanthropy itself by challenging governments and public institutions to match the grants his foundation has pledged, in order to access them. “I give you some, you find some more” is a philanthropic stance that catalyses trust, with the belief that because you have money, you will achieve, and so others will give to you too.

He has also challenged other wealthy people to become philanthropists and in so doing has caused an inferno of giving. He quietly transferred his fortune into his Foundation and invited others to follow suit with his commitment to ‘giving while living’ and became the inspiration for the “GIVING PLEDGE” publicised by Bill Gates and Warren Buffet.

His foundation, The Atlantic Philanthropies, has provided probably the most substantial and sustained investment in the development of human rights organisations in post-apartheid South Africa to date. Our democracy has been strengthened by Atlantic’s visionary support of many key organizations that have paved the way for literally millions of people in South Africa to access land, water, life-saving medicine, education, and most importantly, the right to a life of dignity, free from prejudice. Their strategic investments in nursing and medical care, human and socio-economic rights for vulnerable and poor citizens, and in tertiary education – which are just a few examples – have staved off some catastrophically inevitable societal challenges before they have even had the chance to uproot and reverse the gains we’ve made since 1994.

What differentiates Atlantic’s grants, besides their strategic focus, is that they are made largely free of red tape. These grantmakers know that the people on the ground know best how to spend the resources they need to meet their objectives. An operational flexibility and responsiveness has infested the organizations that Atlantic has benefitted. During a turbulent time of transition, Atlantic invested in them, and in all South Africans.

The South African Institute for Advancement is an Atlantic grantee.