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From Great Challenges, A Deeper Resolve

Dear colleagues and partners,

As this year comes to an end, I wanted to take a moment to think about where we’ve been. For so many, it has been a year of jarring dislocation and hardship. Those of us working to lessen the blow and improve lives have shared in the heartbreak while striving to adapt and push harder.

We should all be proud of our perseverance. The Rockefeller Foundation has drawn inspiration, like so many of our fellow organizations, from the doctors and nurses, the store clerks and factory workers who have displayed such day-to-day honor and determination. We’ve drawn inspiration from the many groups we supported, who worked neighborhood to neighborhood, and from our partners overseas, who help build more resilient communities in so many countries.

The virus caused many organizations like ours to disperse into hundreds of home offices, and yet we found in our scatteredness new forms of unity and new channels of ingenuity. Events everywhere—clogged hospitals in our neighborhoods, the social-justice protests, millions of laid off workers, the disparity of impacts among people of color—gave what we do greater urgency and meaning.

I’ve been struck by the dedication and steadiness I’ve seen within the Foundation, which allows me to say that we have emerged from one of humanity’s toughest years as a stronger and better organization.

As the year imposed fresh challenges, we set our sights higher and became more ambitious. We saw the same response among our partners working on the ground, who also sought to meet the mounting challenges with greater resolve.

We supported a range of groups striving to keep small businesses alive in hard-hit communities like Baltimore, MD, and Louisville, KY. A Foundation-funded group in North Carolina called The Industrial Commons organized furniture upholsters into mask-and-gown producers and, along the way, helped support dozens of small companies hit by the Covid-19 downturn. In India, frontline women technicians the Foundation supports through the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) got training in both self-protection and communication so they could keep traveling to rural communities to repair pumps and restore water.

At the Foundation, we pushed to expand our impact with new financing methods.

In October, we sealed an unprecedented commercial bond offering that raised $700 million so we can invest far more aggressively in areas of greatest impact, such as pandemic response and delivering renewable power to those without access to reliable electricity. You will be hearing much more about that next year.

Nowhere this year have we been more aggressive, and consequential, than in our work promoting a national approach to Covid-19 testing and tracing. We built a large network of outside advisers, and a new inhouse team of specialists. We put forth timely and extensive plans to ramp up national testing, are now advising a range of state and federal entities on pooled purchasing arrangements and the best ways to assure school re-openings and to roll out a national vaccination campaign. We are intent on ensuring the recovery is equitable, considering a disproportionate share of the harm has fallen on households and businesses of color.

This year has caused havoc globally, but it has also given many of us greater focus. We have seen that vividly among our wide network of partners in the U.S. and around the world.

Our managing director for Asia, Deepali Khanna, marveled at how the shared experience of Covid-19 has sparked a burst of collaborative juices among the Foundation’s many allies and grantees in India, who held a series of online brainstorming sessions in November to plot new strategies for 2021.  “We had all become so agile and nimble,” Deepali said. “We all shared the same difficulties, and are now seeking similar solutions.”

The Rockefeller Foundation turns 108 next year, but we don’t just reimagine the future we rejuvenate and replenish our team constantly to realize it. A case in point: Fully a fifth of our total global staff, 47 people in all, are new to the organization this year. Of those, 35 were hired directly into what we’ll call the “remote environment.” Which is to say, they began work at an offsite location and have never visited an RF office. Many have never even met their boss, or another RF employee, except remotely.

And yet, as with many similar organizations, these challenges did little to slow us down. As we regroup next year alongside our partners and grantees, I am confident we will work with greater momentum and a stronger sense of purpose.

This year has taught us that it won’t be enough to rebuild what we had before the pandemic struck. We must seek new models and fresh initiatives—like our push to end energy poverty globally with renewable forms of power—to disrupt the patterns of inequity that this year magnified and worsened.

We have much to be proud of this year, for all its pain and hardship.  I hope we can take some time to pause over the holidays and to share in the gratitude for all the good work we have done together, as we turn to do still more next year.



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