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Philanthropy in a time of crisis

  • 04 September 2020

One of the unique strengths of a Caius education is the quality of the teaching and research carried out by its Fellows. Yet their exemplary and ground-breaking work would not be possible without the support of the Caian community to endow College Fellowships. Here, Sir Alan Fersht, Life Fellow and former Master of Gonville & Caius College, reflects on one such fellowship, The Jeffrey Cheah Fellowship.


One of the greatest Jewish Rabbis, Maimonides (1138-1204), amongst his many other talents, formulated “Eight levels of Giving” applied to charitable donations. The highest level is “Giving an interest-free loan to a person in need; forming a partnership with a person in need; giving a grant to a person in need; finding a job for a person in need; so long as that loan, grant, partnership, or job results in the person no longer living by relying upon others.”

This highest level of philanthropy encompasses precisely what the Jeffrey Cheah Foundation does: it gives grants to scientists and educators to enable their work and it works in partnership with them; and educates young people so they will be able to have jobs and they help society. And, to cap it all, medicine is a central part of those activities. Maimonides really would have approved. It is for those reasons I have enjoyed so much my relationship with Tan Sri Jeffrey and the JCF – we were working together in a partnership that improved medicine, science and education in my College and University and in our partner’s institutions in Malaysia for the benefit of the World. I take pride in being an Honorary Jeffrey Cheah Distinguished Professor so I can continue being a small part in this great partnership.

The current pandemic has brought out the worst and the best in society. Much kindness is shining through. Low paid healthcare workers are risking their lives caring for the sick and elderly. Doctors, scientists and engineers in global collaboration have risen as one to the task of tackling the pandemic. Developments in biotechnology and diagnostics that have sprung from fundamental work on DNA, proteins and molecular and cellular biology are being employed in force. Scientists are challenging ideas and concepts as new facts are discovered in order to make progress. I take pride in being a scientist and being part of the scientific movement that has led to the breakthroughs that are allowing the rapid response to the crisis.

Experimental scientists, however, need considerable support and infrastructure in order to carry out this critical research. Much of it is provided by governments, but it is never enough and sometimes too driven by politics or not flexible enough for unpredictable innovation. Philanthropic individuals and organisations have for long catalysed scientific progress by funding individuals and laboratories and hospitals. Long Live Philanthropy!


Professor Kay-Tee Khaw (1991) and Professor K J Patel (1989) are the current holders of the Jeffrey Cheah Fellowships at Caius, endowed in 2014 by the founder of Sunway University, Malaysia. Professor Khaw, Professor of Clinical Gerontology, is investigating ways of maintaining health in later life and preventing chronic diseases through nutrition and physical activity. Professor Patel, the College's Director of Studies for Clinical Medicine, is researching how alcohol causes us lasting harm through its ability to damage DNA. Both Fellows recognise Tan Sri Dr Cheah’s generosity by giving annual lectures in Malaysia. 

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