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Family office makes biggest single donation ever to Harvard

A Hong Kong family office’s $350 million (€270.4 million) gift to the Harvard School of Public Health will help address pandemics like Ebola, the school’s dean says.

The gift by the Morningside Foundation, the philanthropic arm of family office Morningside Group, is the largest single gift in the Ivy League institution’s history.

Gerald Chan, who heads the family office, pursued medical physics at the university, as well as post-doctorate work in cancer and pathology.

However, the death of his father, Tseng-Hsi Chan, saw him abandon his public health career to join the family business, property developer Hang Lung Group.

According to the school’s dean Julio Frenk, the endowment will help the faculty tackle four global health threats, including pandemics – such as the Ebola disease, currently making headlines as it spreads in western Africa.

The funds will also be used to address harmful physical and social environments (such as air and water pollution, gun violence, tobacco use, and diet), poverty and humanitarian crises, and failing health systems, such as unaffordable and inaccessible healthcare.

According to Harvard Magazine, which profiled the endowment, the school has the lowest level of endowment funding within the university, at just 14% of its budget.

Last year a vast 71% of the school’s funding came from the government and research grants – a shaky income source in the current economic environment.

Having recently celebrated its centenary, the school can boast it has already helped eradicate smallpox, create the polio vaccine, identify the health risks of air pollutants, and develop concepts such as designated drivers.

The magazine stated: “Having an infusion of permanent, secure funding obviously changes the entire financial position materially; the flexibility of use accompanying the terms of the gift make the proceeds even more valuable, compared to the strictures of research grants.”

Chan said the gift was made in honour of his late father. “He was a generous man who was a staunch supporter of education. He also wanted to support scientific research to alleviate human suffering."

The school will now be called the Harvard T H Chan School of Public Health in honour of the Hang Lung Group founder.

Morningside Group operates as a family-run private equity and venture capital fund, with investments in industrial companies, Internet and mobile, life science and health companies, as well as clean tech. 

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