January 30, 2014; Royal Gazette

The Bermuda Community Foundation may be among the world’s newest, but it has an unusual pedigree. It exists with a substantial capital base as of this month due to the final grant Atlantic Philanthropies will make in Bermuda, where it was first established by founder Chuck Feeney, the billionaire owner of airport duty-free shops around the world. In a process of spending down in accordance with Feeney’s wishes, Atlantic Philanthropies’ $6 million grant capitalizes the community foundation and ends Atlantic Philanthropies’ charitable support to Bermudan organizations. (Atlantic actually gave the foundation a start-up grant of sorts for $498,576 in 2012, leading to this much larger capital investment.) The community foundation will actually begin with $8.4 million due to extra funds donated by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the foundation arm of former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, and RenaissanceRe, a Bermuda-based reinsurer.

It is certainly a little disappointing, given the history of Atlantic Philanthropies on foundation payout, to read that the Bermuda Community Foundation plans to distribute four percent annually from each fund that it will be managing, given that most community foundations—and even private foundations—distribute at a much more generous payout schedule. It may be that the low payout schedule is by design to build up the foundation’s capital base, which is meant to grow to $20 million by 2019.

Undoubtedly, many readers probably imagine a totally idyllic Bermuda, with an economy bolstered by the presence of strong offshore reinsurers such as RenRe and XL, the latter another investor in the community foundation, but only a few years ago, the Aspen Institute convened the Aspen-Bermuda Partnership on Racial Equity “to identify the causes of racial inequities in Bermuda and to develop strategies for promoting greater racial equity…[that will] lead to change at the personal and structural level which will create a stronger and more unified Bermuda.” The impetus would seem to be a divide between the majority black population of Bermuda and the minority, but politically dominant, white population.

Aspen’s inclusion of Bermuda in its racial equity explorations suggests that there might be some challenging issues on the community foundation’s docket in the future.—Rick Cohen