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Introducing Atlantic Currents

Resource type: News

Gara LaMarche |

Since the announcement a few months ago of my appointment as President and CEO of The Atlantic Philanthropies, I’ve had an unusual opportunity to hear what many people know – and don’t know – about us.

Some only know that we were once the “anonymous foundation.” Those who led the foundation in that phase, starting with Ray Handlan in 1982 and continuing under Harvey Dale until 2001, accomplished much without claiming credit. Atlantic invested heavily in a drive for excellence in universities in Ireland and Northern Ireland that along with other factors played a role in the Celtic Tiger economic juggernaut. We also invested in the peace process in the North that saw Ian Paisley and Sinn Féin sitting down on May 8 in Belfast’s Parliament to share power (with Atlantic founder Charles Feeney beaming from the galleries). Atlantic helped to launch the International Longevity Center, Bridgespan, the International Center for Transitional Justice and many other essential institutions around the world too numerous to mention. It’s a proud history.

Others know that our trustees, following Chuck Feeney’s wishes, are committed to spending the foundation’s $4 billion in assets as effectively as possible over the next 10 years, and then go out of business. Still others know the piece of Atlantic they are involved with, but they often have no sense of the broad scope of the foundation’s activities around the world. They may know our work to prevent asthma in Bermuda, but not what we do to reduce auto injuries in Viet Nam; to support Traveller families in Dublin, but not persons with HIV/AIDS in South Africa; to empower immigrants in Texas, but not Alzheimer’s patients in Belfast.

The more open Atlantic forged by John Healy, who stepped down as President in April, has a succinct but profound mission: to foster lasting changes in the lives of disadvantaged and vulnerable people. We focus on older and younger people, and work to help many communities unlock human potential inhibited by lack of health and restrictions on rights. Besides the United States, we work in several countries moving beyond a legacy of conflict and colonialism, including Ireland, Viet Nam, Bermuda and South Africa.

Undoubtedly there will be further changes in our remaining 10 years, as we refine our strategies and open space for new initiatives that respond to emerging challenges and remain consistent with our mission and values.

Atlantic has an array of tools and approaches designed for impact. We can and do fund vigorous advocacy for policy change. We identify key institutions and initiatives and provide large, core support, multi-year grants. And we enhance all that with a team that works closely with programme staff and grantees to monitor finances, strengthen communications and organisational development, assess what we and those we support are learning and achieving, and share it broadly.

My hope is that through this column, you’ll come to know more about Atlantic and the organisations, initiatives and individuals we are privileged to support around the world. Not because Atlantic itself is important – we’re at best an enabler and broker of change, and we won’t be around forever – but because the work we’re supporting, those on the frontlines of change, deserve attention and investment from other quarters. The lessons we’re learning, which we’ll do our best to share with you, can be valuable for others who share our values and wish to build on our experience.

Foundations are often viewed as mysterious, unaccountable entities, and I also want to use this column to demystify this one, and throw a spotlight on the way we operate, and why. I also want it to be interactive. I’ll list my e-mail address at the bottom of each column, and I hope you will use it often to make suggestions, and to tell us how we could do better to advance our mission. While you’re here, I hope you’ll visit the rest of Atlantic’s Web site, where there is more information on the grants we make and greater detail about the knowledge we are accumulating.

In choosing me to lead Atlantic, our trustees urged me to use my voice on behalf of the Chuck Feeney model of “giving while living,” and they expect me to keep speaking out on human rights and social justice issues. I aim to do that, and this is a place to start.

Gara LaMarche