HK group gives Harvard largest-ever gift of S$438 million

Harvard University has received the largest donation in its history, the school announced on Monday: US$350 million (S$438 million) to the School of Public Health.

The donation comes from the Morningside Foundation, a group controlled by a wealthy Hong Kong family, one member of which earned graduate degrees at the university. 

The 101-year-old school, with just over 400 faculty and 1,000 full-time students, will be renamed the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, after the patriach of the family.

The donation is unrestricted, and will support efforts including increased financial aid for students, loan forgiveness for graduates who work in underserved areas, new classrooms and seed money for pathbreaking research too novel to win support from other funders.

In particular, said the school’s dean, Julio Frenk, the Morningside gift will support research and training in four areas: pandemics ranging from malaria and Ebola to obesity and cancer; environmental health risks, including pollution, guns, and tobacco; poverty and humanitarian crises, including war and natural disasters; and failing health systems.

Hongkong property tycoons

The Morningside Foundation was established in 1996 by Drs. Ronnie and Gerald Chan to support higher education in North America and Asia. Their father, T.H. Chan, founded the Hang Lung Group Ltd, one of Hong Kong’s largest real estate companies.

After Chan’s death in 1986, his sons started the Morningside Group, which makes private equity and venture capital investments in biotech and other science- and technology-based companies, especially in China and the United States.

The brothers rank 17th on Forbes’ 2014 list of Hong Kong’s richest people with a combined net worth of $2.95 billion.

Previous record

The previous record gift to Harvard, announced earlier this year, was $150 million from hedge fund manager and alumnus Kenneth Griffin, most of it for financial aid.

The largest cumulative donation to any U.S. university, unadjusted for inflation, is $1.1 billion over many years from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg LP, to his alma mater Johns Hopkins University, including its now-eponymous School of Public Health.

In an interview, Gerald Chan called his days as a student at the Harvard School of Public Health “transformative,” a time when he learned that “science can be put into action for the improvement of human health.”

Research at the school has led to the Designated Driver Campaign to prevent drunk driving; stricter Clean Air Act regulations; and bans on trans fats after studies showed they increase the risk of heart disease.

 His father, Chan said, “wanted to support scientific research to alleviate human suffering.” -  Reuters