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A memorable gift from Atlantic Philanthropies

Chuck Feeney

By Ray O’Hanlon

A record grant from Chuck Feeney-founded Atlantic Philanthropies will see Ireland take a position in the front rank of the global battle against the ravages of dementia.

One of the world’s largest private charitable foundations, The Atlantic Philanthropies, according to a release, is giving €138.4 million ($177 million) to Trinity College Dublin and the University of California, San Francisco, to establish the Global Brain Health Institute, a ground breaking initiative that aims to tackle the looming dementia epidemic and improve health and dementia care worldwide.

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The award, which is the largest program grant that Atlantic Philanthropies has ever made, is the biggest philanthropic donation in Irish history and the largest ever received by Trinity College Dublin.

The announcement of the donation was made this week at joint special events in Dublin and San Francisco.

"The Atlantic Philanthropies’ support over the last twenty years for research in the biomedical area has enabled Trinity College to become a recognized leader in ageing research,” said Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

“This, however, forms only a part of Chuck Feeney's educational and research legacy in this country for which we are very grateful. The government’s vision is to make Ireland the ‘best country in which to grow old’ and we are delighted that Ireland is a part of this ambitious global initiative," said Kenny.

According to the release, Dementia is among the most devastating illnesses, affecting over 48 million people globally.

This total is expected to double every twenty years if there are no effective interventions.

“Our goal is to create a generation of leaders around the world who have the knowledge, skills and drive to change both the practice of dementia care and the public health and societal forces that affect brain health,” said Christopher G. Oechsli, president and CEO of The Atlantic Philanthropies.

“By doing so, we hope to reduce dramatically the number of older people who develop this disease, which affects disproportionally those who are socioeconomically disadvantaged, and consumes not just the millions directly afflicted, but their families and caregivers as well.

“We have been working for several years in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland to develop and implement their national strategies to combat dementia, and we are ready to extend and expand that successful effort.”

Co-led by Trinity College Dublin and UCSF, the GBHI initiative will train 600 global leaders over 15 years in the U.S., Ireland and across the world to carry out dementia research, deliver health care, and change policies and practices.

It will be partnering with other institutions worldwide in Latin America, Vietnam, South Africa and Asia and Australia.

GBHI will have shared operations in Trinity and the UCSF that will be led by Trinity Professor of Psychology, Ian Roberston and Professor Bruce Miller, MD, a behavioral neurologist and director of the Memory and Aging Center at UCSF.

The central program will graduate ‘Fellows’ over a two year period. They will receive hands-on experience in diagnosis, treatment and long-term management of patients with cognitive disorders, as well as elderly people who are at risk for brain health disorders. They will also be trained in how to help affected families and their caregivers.

About half the GBHI fellows and scholars will come from the United States, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The other half will come from countries around the world.

After training they will return to their home countries to become leaders and change agents in medicine, nursing, the social sciences and health policy. Support will be available to them from GBHI to develop the dementia-focused programs.

Said Professor of Professor of Psychology at Trinity College Dublin, Ian Robertson: “Dementia needs to be tackled across disciplines, from molecular biology to psychology and physiology to social science, to develop innovative, cutting edge solutions. Both Trinity and UCSF are well placed to do this, as we have leading academics and practitioners in all of these fields and close collaboration and service integration among people who work at all levels to meet this growing challenge.”

Added Dr. Patrick Prendergast, President and Provost of Trinity: “The Atlantic Philanthropies and its founder Chuck Feeney have made the biggest private donation in Irish history.

“The sum donated is huge but so too is the problem we are trying to solve. There is hardly a family anywhere that has not experienced dementia in some shape or form. We are delighted that The Atlantic Philanthropies has once again turned to Trinity and UCSF to find answers to the problems posed by this difficult condition.

“There is no doubt in my mind that this imaginative project will bring benefits to people around the world, create jobs here in Ireland and deepen Trinity’s expertise in neuroscience and ageing. In making this award, The Atlantic Philanthropies intended to leave a lasting legacy for the benefit of society and we in Trinity and UCSF will make sure that we fulfil that objective."

The Atlantic Philanthropies, according to the release, is dedicated to advancing opportunity, equity and human dignity.

Established in 1982, when New Jersey-born Chuck Feeney (whose Irish family roots are in County Fermanagh) quietly committed virtually all of his assets to the foundation, Atlantic has since made grants approaching $8 billion.

In keeping with Mr. Feeney’s ‘Giving While Living’ philosophy, Atlantic invests in systemic change to accelerate improvements in the lives of disadvantaged and vulnerable people.

The foundation, which has operated in Australia, Bermuda, Cuba, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, South Africa, the United States and Vietnam, will complete all grant making in 2016, and conclude operations shortly afterward.

The definitive biography of Chuck Feeney, “The Billionaire Who Wasn’t: How Chuck Feeney Secretly Made and Gave Away a fortune,” was written by Irish journalist and former Irish Times Washington Correspondent, Conor O’Clery. It was published in 2013 and is available on amazon.