When one thinks of charitable contributions to society and philanthropic work, the first thing to come to mind is typically not James Bond. The debonaire spy is well known for his high-speed car chases, shootouts, and successful attempts at thwarting villains determined to take over the world, not necessarily for his donations to charity. However, one real-world billionaire has been compared to the famous spy for that very reason.
Charles F. Feeney, 85, is a man of simple taste. According to a report from The New York Times, Feeney never lived a lavish lifestyle. He would eat burgers at his local pub in New York, fly coach and even carry around any and all reading materials in a plastic bag. And while these all sound like fairly normal things that any average citizen would do, Charles is no average citizen. Once having a net worth of just over $8 billion, Feeney was a wealthy investor and businessman. Dedicated to “giving while living”, Feeney set out to donate the entirety of his fortune to charitable organizations and philanthropic efforts by the end of 2016, which he ultimately completed.
In order to achieve that lofty goal, Feeney founded Atlantic Philanthropies in 1982. Atlantic Philanthropies is a private group of foundations that donates to a variety of charities and philanthropic organizations around the world from South Africa to Vietnam. In its efforts, the organization has funded direct medical care, immigration reform, education and criminal justice advocacy, to name a few.
Feeney made most of his fortune through a company he co-founded that sold a variety of items to travelers at duty-free shops. As previously mentioned, he is also an incredibly shrewd investor, particularly in the field of tech startups, having invested early in companies such as Facebook and Alibaba.
While Feeney’s incredible generosity is amazing on its own merit, what makes him even more remarkable is the fact that he has no interest in self-aggrandizement. He donated a significant fortune of $8 billion and yet almost all of Feeney’s work has been done privately without media attention. This extreme secrecy and lack of publicity lead Forbes to unofficially dub him the “James Bond of philanthropy.” In fact, Feeney had such a focus on keeping his work secret that, for quite some time, Atlantic had a stipulation requiring that all organizations receiving their support not mention their involvement.
In the aforementioned Forbes article, Feeney was quoted as saying, “People used to ask me how I got my jollies, and I guess I’m happy when what I’m doing is helping people and unhappy when what I’m doing isn’t helping people.” Now, with a personal net worth somewhere around $2 million, Feeney lives in a rented apartment in San Francisco with his wife, Helga.
Charles F. Feeney’s incredibly unselfish attitude and generosity is sorely needed in the world. And while many wealthy people do give to charity extensively, very few come close to the philanthropic strategy that has earned Feeney the title, “the James Bond of philanthropy.” All of us, billionaire or not, should equally strive towards the betterment of the human experience.