Harvard’s public health moment

Dean Julio Frenk
Dean Julio Frenk

The act of generosity that renamed our School this past September is an astonishingly bold gesture. The unsolicited $350 million endowment—spearheaded by our distinguished alumnus, Gerald Chan, SM ’75, SD ’79, from his family’s Morningside Foundation—is the largest gift in the history of Harvard University and one of the largest ever in the history of higher education.

This unrestricted endowment gift represents an “annuity in perpetuity,” because the School will benefit from income generated by investing the gift but cannot spend the principal itself. Beyond its financial value, it also bespeaks a powerful trust on the part of Gerald Chan, his brother Ronnie, and the rest of the Chan family. The gift was secured with the crucial help of the Harvard Corporation—in particular, the stewardship of Senior Fellow William F. Lee and Fellow Lawrence S. Bacow. By requiring that the naming gift be unrestricted endowment, the Corporation has strengthened the School’s long-term financial sustainability.

Among other things, that financial stability means that other donors to the School—including those making current use and restricted gifts—can rely on a strong institutional platform to achieve their objectives. Indeed, over the past year, hundreds of donors have made similar statements of trust, giving a record-breaking $103.3 million in the fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2014.

With The Morningside Foundation gift, we have a chance to dream bigger than we ever thought possible. This gift doesn’t mean that our fundraising needs are over, but it supercharges our efforts. As Harvard University president Drew Gilpin Faust noted at the announcement ceremony, “The Chan family’s generosity sends a signal to the world: This is the public health moment.”

The cumulative power of gifts we will receive now and in the future will bolster the work of faculty and students dedicated to slowing and reversing four global health threats: old and new pandemics, harmful physical and social environments, poverty and humanitarian crises, and failing health systems.

The Morningside Foundation’s gift will directly support the education of new generations of global health leaders. It will boost student aid and enable our School to launch a loan forgiveness pilot program for graduates who go on to work in underserved communities in the U.S. or in developing countries. It will underwrite junior faculty sabbaticals and fund their innovative, untested ideas.

The gift will create a fund to encourage pathbreaking research ideas generated by both faculty and students. It will make possible long-deferred building renovations and expanded funding for big data. And it will buffer the School against future financial crises.

In acknowledgment of the magnitude and impact of The Morningside Foundation’s gift, the School has been renamed the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health—honoring the brothers’ late father, T.H. Chan. He believed profoundly in the power of education and science to improve people’s lives—as do we. Our work will move forward with renewed vigor, sustained by the gratitude and trust and unbounded generosity of one of our own.

Julio Frenk
Dean of the Faculty and T & G Angelopoulos Professor of Public Health and International Development, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Harvard Kennedy School