Gerald Chan worked on a master’s degree and then a doctorate at the School of Public Health at Harvard in the 1970s. After that he pursued medical research for a period. Eventually he entered the family business of real-estate development and founded his own investment fund.
Grateful for his education, and alarmed by growing international threats like Ebola, in 2014 Chan and his brother gave Harvard the largest single gift in its history—$350 million—to bolster the endowment of the university’s public-health school. The money will be used for things like increased financial aid for the 1,000 students who are enrolled in the school at any given time, forgiving loans for graduates willing to work in underserved areas, improved faculty recruitment, and funding for early-research projects. “While medical doctors give health benefits to individual patients, public health is a field that helps to give benefit to the whole population,” Chan told the Boston Globe in announcing the family gift.
Chan’s gift was just the latest and largest in a string of donations that have energized this field. Michael Bloomberg provided tens of millions of dollars to build up the school of public health at Johns Hopkins University (the world’s largest). Then in 2016 he gave the school an additional $300 million. In 2014, Michael Milken donated $40 million to the school of public health at George Washington University. In 2007 the Rollins family doubled the size of the public-health facility at Emory University with a $50 million grant, and the Gillings family made a similar $50 million investment in the school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. And Columbia’s public-health program was strengthened by one of the first large philanthropic infusions to this field, a $33 million gift in 1998 by Joseph Mailman.