On May 14th, 1913, The Rockefeller Foundation was chartered to fulfill an unprecedented and enduring mission: to promote the well-being of humanity throughout the world. Today, as we celebrate our 105th birthday and look back on more than a century of philanthropic innovation and impact, I’d like to share with you how we plan to continue to shape the future.
As you know, for more than 100 years The Rockefeller Foundation has brought together unconventional actors to solve the world’s toughest problems. We were founded at a moment of transformation, as breakthroughs in science and technology created the potential for rapid progress. Since then we’ve worked in collaboration with some of the most talented and passionate people, leveraging our resources along with our partners’ to take bold risks that have delivered profound and lasting impact for millions of people around the world.
For example, as innovations in medicine became more widely available, we worked hand-in-hand with communities worldwide to end hookworm, develop a groundbreaking vaccine for yellow fever, and pioneered modern systems of public health to benefit everyone. During the Great Depression, we brought together America’s leading economists to grapple with U.S. poverty, which led to the creation of Social Security and financial stability for generations of Americans. And as hunger and famine gripped nations cut off from progress, we invested in international agricultural research, creating breakthroughs that ushered in a Green Revolution and gave farmers throughout the world the capacity to feed more than a billion people who were otherwise on the brink of hunger and poverty.
In more recent years, our partners and grantees have continued to deliver results that matter: We helped New Orleans, New York, and cities around the world plan for and recover from devastating climate events. Smart Power India and its partners on the ground are electrifying rural communities that lack reliable access to energy, helping to unlock economic potential and transforming the lives of vulnerable children and families. The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, or AGRA, has helped to more than double average crop yields for millions of smallholder farmers. And just last fall we launched Co-Impact together with some of the world’s leading philanthropists, to create a new global collaborative for systems change that’s focused on improving the lives of millions of people around the world.
The Road Ahead
Today, we live in a time that feels fractured. Global leaders have retrenched from commitments to fight poverty, combat climate change, and build a more peaceful, integrated global community. At the same time, people around the world are rapidly losing faith in institutions that were intended to serve their needs and interests. In this moment, it’s easy to be pessimistic about the future. Yet at Rockefeller, we believe more strongly than ever in humanity’s capacity to solve the toughest challenges.
In fact, now is a pivotal moment when rapid advancements in science and technology offer millions of people the chance at a better life. It is simply unacceptable that in a world capable of so much, there are still so many with so little hope. That is why, as we move into a new era, we will accelerate breakthrough solutions in health, food, power, and jobs to ensure the benefits of progress and prosperity are shared by all.
Our approach will continue to be grounded in what we’ve seen work for more than a century:
We will bring people together through convenings and collaboration, including by establishing a new model for collaborative philanthropy in the 21st century.
We will innovate in the areas of data, science, and finance.
We will seek leverage through policy and partnerships.
We will accelerate impact through deep engagement and expertise in cities—including through our 100 Resilient Cities initiative, now in its fifth year.
And all the while, we will push ourselves aggressively to measure and deliver results that meaningfully improve people’s lives.
In particular, partnering with unconventional actors to solve problems will increasingly become a defining characteristic of who we are and how we work. We’ve seen the power of partnerships throughout our 105 years, and we have a responsibility in this pivotal moment to build ambitious coalitions—spanning the public sector, the private sector, and civil society—that match the scale of the challenges we seek to address.
In collaboration with our partners and grantees, we will work to help children and families secure the fundamentals of human well-being while giving cities and other communities the tools to reduce vulnerability and thrive as we pursue these five areas:
HEALTH: By bringing digital tools to community health, and building on our recent efforts to promote universal health coverage, we will work to reduce child and maternal deaths by millions, and better enable management of the growing burden of non-communicable disease and prevent pandemic threats.
FOOD: By supporting new scientific advances in human nutrition and food production, and carrying forward our commitment to a Green Revolution in Africa, we will reach hundreds of millions of children and families with nourishing food while improving the sustainability of the global food system.
POWER: By building public-private partnerships to extend productive power to those without sufficient access, we will leverage the progress we’ve made in our Smart Power initiative to help end energy poverty and transform the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people.
U.S. JOBS: By leveraging policy opportunities and building unique public-private partnerships—such as our work on portable benefits for the gig economy or unlocking new potential through Opportunity Zones—we will work to enable meaningful economic mobility for millions of people in the United States who have not fully benefitted from a changing economy.
CITIES: By continuing to advance 100 Resilient Cities—including our work over the last six months to help Puerto Rico build back better after Hurricane Maria—we will catalyze a global urban resilience movement that changes how cities plan and act in the face of devastating storms, a warming planet, and other shocks and stresses.
Moving forward, we’ve decided to make fewer, larger investments to maximize our impact. We’ve reaffirmed our commitment to take risks others can’t, or won’t, especially to advance innovations in data, science, and finance that can dramatically extend the reach of our work. And with a deep respect for the power of bringing together unconventional actors, we will continue to convene thinkers and doers at the historic Bellagio Center to drive change through ideas, build consensus around action, and inspire commitment to building a more just world.
Having now served at The Rockefeller Foundation for just over a year, I continue to appreciate the exceptional talent and aspirations of our teams in New York and around the world. I also take pride in the impact we are having in the world today—from the slums of Kibera in Nairobi to the outskirts of San Juan, Puerto Rico. In looking to the future, I am inspired by all those we will serve in the days ahead: The young mother in a village who doesn’t have access to basic health services. The boy whose chronic malnutrition is keeping him from growing to reach his full height, and his full potential. The girl in rural India who still must walk for hours in the dark just to get clean drinking water or find a working power outlet. The family here in the United States that hungers for the economic security, opportunity, and dignity that comes with a good job.
Those are the lives we have to lift up, the places we have to reach, the problems we have to solve in this new era. In the process, we hope our collective efforts can help rebuild hope and trust that citizens working together can ensure a better future for all people. At Rockefeller we’ve been fortunate to know, support, and be inspired by people like you: individuals, partners, and grantees working hard every day to promote the well-being of humanity. Together we’ve tackled some of the world’s toughest problems, and together we will continue to shape the future.
I hope you’ll join us.