Foundation's archives reflect Feeney's 'giving while living'

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Joe Schwartz
Oechsli and Garrett
Jason Koski/University Photography
Christopher G. Oechsli, president and CEO of Atlantic Philanthropies, discusses the foundation's work with Cornell President Elizabeth Garrett Oct. 23 in Statler Auditorium.

The latest gift to Cornell from philanthropist Charles “Chuck” Feeney ’56 will serve as a resource and inspiration for meaningful giving now and in the future via archives documenting the work of Feeney’s Atlantic Philanthropies, the foundation he established 33 years ago.

The donation of the foundation’s entire print and electronic archives to Cornell University Library’s Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections is accompanied by a $4 million gift to support their preservation, interpretation and promotion.

Cornell President Elizabeth Garrett announced the donation following her first State of the University address Oct. 23 in Statler Auditorium during the 65th joint Trustee-Council Annual Meeting. Garrett also discussed the foundation’s work with Christopher Oechsli, Atlantic Philanthropies president and chief executive officer.

“This is an exciting gift,” Garrett said. “The archives document Atlantic’s extraordinary philanthropic work around the world. … It captures the foundation’s unique strategic approach – its focus on big-bet giving, giving for impact and, most importantly, Chuck Feeney’s commitment to giving while living.”

The archives document the foundation’s work supporting initiatives in higher education, aging, children and youth, population health and human rights in the United States, Northern Ireland, Australia, South Africa, Vietnam and elsewhere.

“After a yearlong search, we selected Cornell not because it was Chuck Feeney’s alma mater, but because it has the best digital resources in the country [and is] a truly exceptional platform to do the kinds of things we hope to do with those archives,” Oechsli said. The goal for the archives is to “provide an accessible platform to be used by future philanthropists … and to inform, influence and inspire others,” he said.

Atlantic is now a “limited-life” foundation and will make its final grants next year and close its doors by 2020, Garrett said.

She recounted Feeney’s impact on Cornell after nearly $1 billion in support, including his first anonymous gift to establish the Cornell Tradition, and a $350 million gift in 2011 toward Cornell Tech in New York City.

“Everywhere you turn you can see the effect that Atlantic Philanthropies and Chuck Feeney have had. … He has shaped virtually every aspect of Cornell” and every area of study, she said. “The support has given Cornell the means to dramatically change our approach to undergraduate education, to support athletics, and to keep doors open to students of all backgrounds.”

A School of Hotel Administration alumnus, Feeney made his fortune in duty-free stores and has been giving it all away (anonymously, for several years) to better the world.

“It has not been Chuck Feeney’s personal style to speak about his work, but we’re cognizant that in our final phase of operations and activity that there’s a lot to be captured and shared,” Oechsli said.

He said Cornell is also a stop on an international listening tour of those organizations with which Atlantic has worked “to determine how best to share the work.”

A video Oechsli presented featured comments from Feeney and testimonials from Bill Gates and Cornell’s 12th President, David J. Skorton.

Among Feeney’s signature quotes: “There is no shortage of people who need help. It is a market that will always exist.”


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