Moments in Time: 1980 – 1989



  • The Foundation launches the International Clinical Epidemiology Network (INCLEN), expanding over time to centers at 40 medical schools in 18 developing countries, where physicians learn how to conduct research on their countries’ most serious health problems. The goal is to design less costly and more effective health policies.
  • Richard W. Lyman becomes president of the Rockefeller Foundation and serves until 1988.


  • The Foundation launches a six-year demonstration effort to address the needs of single minority women who head households. The program eventually trains more than 2,500 women for employment through community-based organizations in four cities.


  • Clifton R. Wharton Jr. becomes chair of the board of trustees and serves until 1987.


  • Grants of $1 million each are made to Columbia University and to a joint program at the University of California, Berkeley and Stanford University to foster research and training in Soviet foreign policy and behavior.


  • The Foundation launches a major long-term program on genetic plant engineering.


  • The Foundation undertakes a grants program to help African, Asian and Latin American scientists collaborate on biomedical research relating to the use of contraceptives—a pioneering “South-to-South” venture.
  • A fellowships program for foreign language teachers in US high schools is initiated, providing opportunities for summer study abroad.


  • Foundation-supported researchers develop a method to regenerate whole rice plants from rice protoplast, a major breakthrough in the genetic engineering of cereal plants.
  • Norplant, a long-lasting contraceptive capsule implanted under the skin of the arm, is approved in 43 countries after two decades of research and extensive international testing. The contraceptive, developed by the Population Council with Foundation support, is approved for use in the US in 1990.
  • Acting on the recommendation of a 1984 trustee task force, the Foundation commits $250-$300 million over the next five years to launch its International Program to Support Science-Based Development, designed to improve living standards in developing countries by promoting more equitable and effective uses of science and technology.


  • John R. Evans becomes chair of the board of trustees and serves until 1995.
  • The Foundation establishes a fellowship program to support independent film, video and multimedia artists in the US. In 1992, the fellowships are expanded to include Latin American filmmakers.
  • A grant to the African Fertility Society enables scientists from 10 Sub-Saharan countries to collaborate on family-planning procedures that minimize the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS.
  • The Foundation launches a major program to attack persistent poverty in American cities. An early grant of $1.2 million supports start-up, national research and operations in Denver, Oakland, Washington, DC, Boston, Cleveland and San Antonio.


  • Building on the success of the Great Neglected Diseases program, the Foundation inaugurates a tropical disease research program in cooperation with the World Health Organization.
  • Peter C. Goldmark Jr. becomes Rockefeller Foundation's president and serves until 1997.
  • Arts and Humanities officers organize the first of two seminal conferences with the Smithsonian Institution on the presentation and interpretation of cultural diversity in museums. The proceedings are published as “Exhibiting Cultures” and “Museums and Communities” and become important sources for museums, curators, scholars and educators over the following decade.
  • The Foundation introduces a plan to examine the market for cassava—a shrubby plant grown for its edible root—in nine Sub-Saharan countries. The study is conceived as a parallel to biotechnology research and is aimed at ensuring that research and development matches the actual needs of the farmers and consumers who depend on cassava.


  • The Foundation launches three initiatives: a global environmental program, a domestic program of school reform, and a program in international security.
  • The exhibition “Facing History: The Black Image in American Art, 1710-1940,” organized by the Corcoran Gallery and supported through the Rockefeller Foundation Museums Program, is the first comprehensive and historical examination of how America’s leading artists have portrayed African-Americans.