In the world of philanthropy, few names shine as bright as Chuck Feeney’s. With his recent passing, we’re reflecting on his foundational impact on Echoing Green, philanthropy, business, and the causes he championed.
Throughout his life, Chuck Feeney left an indelible mark spanning sectors and continents. In business, he’s regarded as a savvy entrepreneur, having launched the duty-free shopping industry and leading global growth equity investor, General Atlantic. He co-founded Atlantic Philanthropies, which made grants totaling more than $8 billion to various issues worldwide. Finally but notably, Feeney was an early and transformative contributor to Echoing Green. We would not be where we are today without him.
Feeney’s vision of “Giving While Living” was one of the most remarkable aspects of his philanthropy. After amassing more than $8 billion due in part to the immense success of duty-free shopping, Feeney made a commitment to give away all of his wealth during his lifetime.
By 2020, Feeney would not only fulfill his promise to give away his wealth, but he’d do so almost entirely anonymously. This groundbreaking act, done without fanfare, set a powerful example for future generations of philanthropists. Through the stories of Fellows, we witness the direct impact of his values:
With Chuck Feeney what strikes me is that there is so much emphasis on his lifestyle and being modest about his transportation choices but the notion of people getting impacted by his giving and why the anonymity of it made a difference to the people receiving the money (that it was about the work not about him) isn’t the focus.
— Lisbeth Shepherd, 1993 Echoing Green Fellow
When he signed The Giving Pledge, Feeney wrote: “I cannot think of a more personally rewarding and appropriate use of wealth than to give while one is living—to personally devote oneself to meaningful efforts to improve the human condition.”
At Echoing Green, we’re deeply inspired by Feeney’s principles, rooting our work with social innovators in a people-first, trust-based approach. In 2017, we honored him with the inaugural Echoing Impact award for his contributions and commitment to the field. Last year, we collaborated to feature his wisdom in the Influence for Good: How Highly Resourced Individuals Could Work Towards Positive Systemic Change report, which delves into his unique approach to philanthropy.
In addition to influencing the philanthropic sector at large, Feeney’s generosity also ignited Fellows’ passion and drive to address pressing social issues:
Chuck Feeney’s extraordinary vision to support Echoing Green in its infancy had a massive multiplier effect around the world. If it weren’t for Chuck Feeney, there perhaps may not have been hundreds of organizations like Last Mile Health, Teach for America, City Year, One Acre Fund, Shining Hope for Communities, and the organization I founded, Global Fund for Children. He, along with his colleagues at General Atlantic, were at the forefront of solving the world’s most intractable problems by backing highly innovative social entrepreneurs. The Echoing Green Fellows community will be forever grateful for Mr. Feeney’s catalytic investment.
— Maya Ajmera, 1993 Echoing Green Fellow and Echoing Green Board Member
Feeney’s legacy will continue to impact lives for generations to come. He once said: “Philanthropy is not about money. It’s about using whatever resources you have at your fingertips and applying them to improving the world.”
As we remember him, let’s not only celebrate his incredible generosity, but also heed his call to use the resources available to us — our time, skills, funds, and more — to make the world a better place.