Founding benefactor The Starr Foundation encourages diversity and intercultural engagement at Yale-NUS

24 July 2020

By Avani Adhikari

For 65 years, The Starr Foundation has been guided by the same values it seeks to nurture and sustain in students — curiosity, discipline and a willingness to explore new places, people and ideas. A founding benefactor of Yale-NUS College, The Starr Foundation’s focus is helping those in need and connecting people through its investments in areas such as medicine and healthcare, human needs, public policy, culture and the environment, and more significantly, education.

The Starr Foundation was established in 1955 by Mr Cornelius Vander Starr, an insurance entrepreneur and founder of C.V. Starr & Co. Mr Starr’s successor, Mr Maurice R. Greenberg, later formed the American International Group, Inc (AIG) as a Starr subsidiary, and served as the company’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) for nearly 40 years. Under his leadership, AIG grew from an initial market value of USD$300 million to USD$180 billion, becoming the largest insurance company in the world. Mr Greenberg, current Chairman and CEO of Starr Insurance Companies, is the longtime Chairman of The Starr Foundation.

Founder of The Starr Foundation, Mr Cornelius Vander Starr. Image provided by The Starr Foundation.

An adventurer and globalist at heart, Mr Starr founded C.V. Starr & Co. in 1919 in China and he was a trailblazer in fostering long-term relationships between the East and the West. He was equally passionate about education and a champion of meritocracy who gave opportunities to anyone who was qualified, regardless of nationality. Once quoted saying, “Sometimes I find a man who has an inner fire, a man who is perfectly in his métier, his orbit. And when I do, I back him.”

Throughout his lifetime, Mr Starr was noted for his generosity and philanthropy, particularly in the areas of education and internationalism. Upon his death in 1968, Mr Starr’s entire estate was transferred to The Starr Foundation, which continues to be guided by his ideals and vision. The same spirit is also shared by Mr Greenberg who emphasises the “importance of helping students who might not otherwise have the financial means to complete their university education.” The Foundation has endowed 152 C.V. Starr Scholarship Funds at more than 100 colleges, universities, and selected secondary schools, including one of our parent institutions, Yale University, as well as other notable institutions like Columbia University and Johns Hopkins University.

Chairman of The Starr Foundation, Mr Maurice R. Greenberg. Image provided by The Starr Foundation.

According to Mr Greenberg, “[The Starr Foundation] wants to ensure that the best and brightest students around the globe enjoy opportunities to live and learn in Asia.” At a place as diverse as Yale-NUS, the philosophy of helping everyone obtain success becomes even more compelling. Over the years, the generosity of The Starr Foundation has enabled Yale-NUS to support a student body that comes from all socio-economic backgrounds, nationalities, and cultures, allowing the College to create a vibrant environment of collaborative learning and intercultural engagement that give students a platform to fully realise their potential.

The Starr Foundation’s goal “to build better international understanding and more informed international relations between the United States of America and other nations, especially in Asia” further supports the cultivation and celebration of diversity at the College. At a time when the world is becoming more divided, retaining old bonds and building new ones become vital. Mr Greenberg notes, “The Starr Companies were first established in Shanghai in 1919, and expanded rapidly in Asia. So in a sense, Asia was the birthplace of The Starr Foundation. We share Yale-NUS College’s view that it is critical that students understand these important relationships.”

President of Yale-NUS College and Professor of Humanities (History) Tan Tai Yong concurred, “We are grateful to The Starr Foundation for its generosity to Yale-NUS. The Foundation has had a profound impact on our students and we hope to be able to continue fortifying values such as diversity and inclusivity, which we share with the Foundation, in our years to come.”

As Yale-NUS grows, The Starr Foundation is excited to see the growth of multifaceted relationships at the College. Mr Greenberg adds, “We hope that students will seize opportunities at Yale-NUS to meet other people and learn new things — habits that will be invaluable whatever paths in life the students decide to undertake.”