Harvard University’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, directed by Harvard Law School Professor Lawrence Lessig, has received a gift of $12.3 million from Lily Safra, given in memory of her late husband, Edmond J. Safra, a prominent philanthropist who was the founder of the Republic National Bank of New York.
The gift will support the activities of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, permanently endow the graduate fellowship program, and fund the recently launched Research Lab. This personal gift from Mrs. Safra follows a donation of $10 million from the Edmond J. Safra Foundation to endow the center in 2004.
“We are grateful for this timely gift to the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics,” said Harvard President Drew Faust. “At a moment in history when many people are examining the global financial system and the role of public institutions, we will all benefit from serious research into the increasing complexity of public life and the ethical issues faced by corporate leaders.”
Mrs. Safra said, “I have always considered it a wonderful privilege to be able to count myself among the Edmond J. Safra Center’s friends and supporters, and I am delighted to offer this additional support for the center’s vitally important work. If we truly value justice and basic human dignity, ethical questions need to be part of every field of study and every policy discussion. I know my husband would share my great pride in the Edmond J. Safra Center’s tremendous contributions toward this goal — and its promise for the future.”
In addition to a $10 million gift from the Edmond J. Safra Philanthropic Foundation in 2004, other previous gifts facilitated by Mrs. Safra helped endow the Edmond J. Safra Graduate Fellowships in Ethics and a Faculty Fellowship in Ethics. A portion of the new funding will fully endow the Edmond J. Safra Graduate Fellowship program and ensure that the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics’ role in training younger scholars and developing future leaders in ethics will continue.
Since its founding over 20 years ago, the center’s fellowship programs have hosted more than 250 talented scholars, some of whom have gone on to establish ethics centers at other universities in the United States and abroad. A sampling of this year’s fellowship topics includes projects examining financial ties between the pharmaceutical industry and psychiatric treatment boards, determining which psychological factors predict whether whistleblowers will be praised or rejected, and understanding the interaction of policy and daily attitudes toward risk in the financial industry.
Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics Director and Harvard Law School Professor Lawrence Lessig, who succeeded founding director Dennis F. Thompson as the center’s director in 2009, launched a new Research Lab as a major initiative designed to address fundamental problems of ethics in a way that provides benefit to institutions of government and society around the world. The lab’s first project focuses on the problem of institutional corruption.
“We are enormously fortunate to have this extraordinary gift from Lily Safra,” said Lessig. “The support of the Edmond J. Safra Philanthropic Foundation has already secured a permanent place for the Center for Ethics at Harvard. This gift will allow us to extend our work to important and timely questions of institutional corruption.”
Founded in 1986 by former President Derek Bok, and led for more than 20 years by Professor Dennis Thompson, the center encourages teaching and research about ethical issues in public and professional life. It is the core of a well-established movement at Harvard to give ethics a prominent place in the curriculum and on the agenda of research. By promoting a perspective informed by both theory and practice, the center helps to meet the growing need for teachers, scholars, and leaders who address questions of moral choice in the professions and public life more generally.