The $350 million donation by Hong Kong billionaire Gerald Chan to his alma mater, the Harvard School of Public Health, is more than just a one-time boost to one of Harvard’s less-well-funded graduate schools. It’s also a way of ensuring Massachusetts’ continued importance in global health research.
Chan’s gift — the largest single donation in Harvard’s history — is unrestricted, meaning it can be used in any way the school deems necessary. This is important for an institution such as the Harvard School of Public Health, which depends on federal grants, an often unreliable source of funding, for 70 percent of its budget. The school will be renamed the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, after Gerald Chan’s late father.
Scholars at the school have been responsible for breakthroughs as diverse as the development of the polio vaccine and the “designated driver” campaign, which has helped reduce alcohol-related traffic fatalities by 30 percent since the late 1980s. Donations like Chan’s will help ensure that potentially transformative research currently being conducted at the institution, such as that being done on the obesity epidemic, gets the funding it needs.
The work done at places such as the Harvard School of Public Health is the foundation of Massachusetts’ dominance in health care, as strong institutions attract both top-notch academics and private companies to the Bay State. Chan’s gift will help keep this activity in the Commonwealth — which can only be a good thing.