Our Strategy Pathways to Impact

Pathways to Impact


Pathways to Impact

The Rockefeller Foundation utilizes three reinforcing levers for impact to varying degrees. These organizing principles, which were inspired by John D. Rockefeller Sr.’s tradition of scientific philanthropy, are the Three Pathways to Impact:

  • Intervention: Implementing time-bound initiatives that have specific goals and metrics, that directly impact people, and that can be scaled up or replicated more widely.
  • Influence: Leveraging The Rockefeller Foundation’s role and reputation as a catalyst, thought leader, and convening entity to support new solutions to global problems.
  • Innovation: Identifying, designing, testing, supporting and implementing novel solutions, processes, and technologies.




Improving Lives through Targeted, Time-Bound Initiatives

Over the past ten years, The Rockefeller Foundation has designed and implemented a wide range of interventions that have impacted the lives of millions of people around the world. These interventions have several key characteristics:

  • They are targeted and time-bound—following a timeline that calls for them to be completed within a specified number of years. This timeframe, which varies from one intervention to the next, is based on the Foundation’s analysis of when its direct involvement will have the most catalytic effect, and when an intervention can become sustainable and/or should be handed off to other organizations that are better positioned to scale up and sustain it.
  • They typically follow an “Initiative Pipeline” that includes several distinct phases—a Scan phase (in which a wide range of problem areas and opportunities are identified for consideration, using the criteria of dynamism, feasibility, and potential impact); a Search phase (in which a smaller set of possible problem areas are weighed against other potential options and the most promising are selected); a Development phase (in which the selected problem and solution is planned, tested, and modified as needed); and an Execution phase. A recent example of the Pipeline in action is the Foundation’s YieldWise initiative. The initiative’s Scan phase affirmed the value of an effort focused on reducing food waste and spoilage; the Search phase identified a range of potential market systems interventions involving both small and large producers and supply chain actors; and the Development phase focused the initiative’s efforts on specific interventions around a targeted number of foods in a select group of African nations. The initiative is now in the execution phase, with robust monitoring mechanisms in place to track its progress.

The Rockefeller Foundation's Strategic Model

  • Each intervention is designed to produce measurable results that can be monitored during the course of intervention. For example, with the Smart Power for Rural Development (SPRD) initiative, the Foundation tracks inclusive economic growth in rural villages with SPRD mini-grid sites in terms of increased revenues for micro-enterprises, change in GDP per capita, and percent of households with a low standard of living index. This allows an initiative’s design to be modified mid-course as needed, and its benefits to be clearly evaluated once the intervention is over.
  • The Foundation’s interventions are also designed to pilot key concepts such as the global benefits of regional disease surveillance networks, or the benefits of resilience design competitions as a mechanism for more resilient use of disaster recovery funds, with the potential for scaling up or replicating these approaches in the future.

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Supporting novel approaches to global problems

Innovation has always played an integral part in The Rockefeller Foundation’s activities, dating back to John D. Rockefeller’s original concept of “scientific philanthropy”—bringing cutting-edge, evidence-based solutions to bear on the world’s pressing problems. Today, its approach to innovation takes a number of different forms:

The Rockefeller Foundation supports innovative approaches to surfacing new ideas. Its Accelerating Innovation for Development initiative, an effort that began in 2006, explored how open and user-driven innovation models might be applied to meet the needs of the poor or vulnerable. In this initiative, the Foundation sponsored a series of online innovation challenges carried out in partnership with InnoCentive, a for-profit open innovation company, and GlobalGiving, a web-based philanthropy network, and then awarded challenge grants to researchers to develop the most promising designs. Since then, the Foundation has continued to utilize the innovation challenge model and the collaborative competition model to solicit innovative solutions to a range of global problems. In addition, as the Foundation continued to refine its strategic model over time, it became clear that innovation needed to be incorporated as one the Foundation’s guiding pathways, rather than limiting the concept to a specific, targeted, and time-bound initiative.

The Foundation leverages its capacity for risk-taking to spearhead promising but challenging new approaches to problems, thereby encouraging and facilitating participation by other institutions. By helping to launch The New York City Acquisition Fund, for example, it opened the door to private investment in projects to develop affordable housing in New York City.

Through initiatives such as African Risk Capacity and YieldWise, the Foundation also continues to pilot and test innovative solutions for promoting inclusive economies and resilience.

In addition, The Rockefeller Foundation creates and develops tools and frameworks that support ongoing innovation in key areas. Foundation-supported efforts in this area include social impact bonds, social innovation labs, its Innovation Forums, the Global Fellowship on Social Innovation, and its innovative finance portfolio. Besides supporting the development of innovation capacity and finance, the Foundation also promotes innovative technologies for social good. For example, the Foundation is supporting Planet Labs to provide high-frequency satellite images that enable resilience-building teams to monitor landscape change in a defined geographic area.

Nurturing Cultural Innovation in Our Neighborhoods and Schools

The Rockefeller Foundation’s support of innovation also extends to the world of art, music, literature, and theater.  Here our resources are being used to fund projects that serve as a catalyst for social change and that encourage inclusive communities by fostering connections among poor or vulnerable populations and spanning cross-cultural divides. Over the past decade, we have awarded scores of grants that have helped provide lower-income Americans with greater access to our established cultural institutions, encouraged and nourished local cultural endeavors and art forms, and led to the creation of school curricula that enable young people to explore and experience culture on a personal level. In one of our earliest efforts in this area, the Foundation awarded $975,000 to Columbia University’s Teachers College in 2007 to develop an open source multidisciplinary curriculum and online resources based on When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, filmmaker Spike Lee’s HBO documentary about Hurricane Katrina. Through the grant, 5,000 teachers, schools, libraries, and community groups nationwide received free copies of the DVD and related curriculum package to graphically teach about the causes and consequences of poverty in America.

Rockefeller Foundation grantee the Queens Museum is an illustrative example of how culture can be leveraged to bring more people better access to opportunity.

In its home city of New York, the Foundation created a Cultural Innovation Fund (CIF) to provide more than $16 million in support to 86 cultural institutions from 2007 through 2012, helping them to leverage the arts to achieve social innovation. These grants reached a half-million people across New York City, assisting larger, more well-funded institutions to explore innovations in how they create and present artistic work and engage on civic issues, and also supporting less familiar, more community-based organizations focused on encouraging creative expression and artistic traditions among lower-income and immigrant populations, from dance and drama to poetry and visual art. Grantees include the Ghetto Film School, which teaches filmmaking techniques to low-income teens in the South Bronx and helps them produce their own films and video projects, the Queens Museum of Art, which established a storefront art studio in Corona, Queens that became a center of artistic and educational activity for the local immigrant community, and The Civilians, a community-engaged theater company in Brooklyn.

Lin-Manuel Miranda as Alexander Hamilton
Lin-Manuel Miranda as Alexander Hamilton in the Broadway musical sensation, ‘Hamilton’

The Rockefeller Foundation’s support for cultural innovation in New York City continues today as part of its NYC Opportunities Fund. In 2015, the Foundation awarded a $1.46 million grant that enabled 20,000 New York City high school students in Title 1 schools (schools that receive supplemental funding from the U.S. Department of Education to meet the needs of at-risk and low-income students) to see the ground-breaking musical Hamilton, and provided materials for integrating the musical into local schools’ 11th-grade history curriculum. The Foundation also sponsors another innovative music-based curriculum, Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Jazz for Young People on Tour—a program that emerged from the Foundation-backed “Let Freedom Swing” educational collaboration with jazz musician Wynton Marsalis and retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Designed for students K through 12, the program brings outstanding jazz artists and performances to NYC and metropolitan area schools, integrating music and history while inspiring and developing youngsters’ core competencies of Social Emotional Learning (SEL). During the 2015–16 school year, the program reached more than 15,000 New York City students in 100 school groups and community-based organizations. Efforts are now underway to bring the program to school systems in Chicago, St. Louis, New Orleans; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Sydney, Australia.

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Leveraging The Rockefeller Foundation Brand to Advance Ideas and Catalyze Action

In recent years, as it looks for ways to maximize the impact of its resources, The Rockefeller Foundation has focused increasingly on leveraging one of its most valuable assets: The Rockefeller Foundation brand. The Foundation’s hard-won reputation as a global force for good for more than a century gives it a unique position of influence around the world.

It strives to leverage this influence in a variety of ways:

  • The Foundation uses its long-standing reputation as a thought leader in global development to promote and disseminate critical concepts and technologies, such as the push for universal health coverage through its Transforming Health Systems initiative, and affordable, inclusive urban transportation systems in its Bus Rapid Transit initiative.
  • It acts as a catalyst for new ideas, using its own initiatives to jump-start promising solutions. Today, Foundation initiatives such as 100 Resilient Cities and Smart Power for Rural Development are helping to pioneer innovative approaches to urban resilience and energy access.
  • The Foundation draws on its global relationships to develop coalitions and networks, such as the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) or its regional disease surveillance networks, that support and extend solutions.
  • The Foundation also employs its relationships, expertise, and infrastructure to convene forums and conferences that explore new approaches to global problems and generate commitments to action, such as its Urban Resilience Summit and its Global eHealth Summit.

The Rockefeller Foundation Centennial Celebration


In 2013, The Rockefeller Foundation celebrated its Centennial anniversary. This milestone offered a unique opportunity to reinforce and extend the Foundation’s influence by reaffirming its international reputation as a force for positive change, while also enhancing its network of global relationships.

Adopting the theme of “Innovation for the Next 100 Years,” The Rockefeller Foundation convened a number of Centennial events around the world, including a Global Health Summit in Beijing in January 2013, and a summit in Abuja, Nigeria in July 2013 on Realizing the Potential of African Agriculture. The Global Health Summit launched a series of conversations that led to the formation of The Rockefeller Foundation Lancet Commission on Planetary Health and the development of this emerging field. The Abuja summit led to the creation of a new organization to bring together African agriculture and finance ministers to help realize the economic potential of farming.

The Foundation issued a range of Centennial-related publications, including a series of extensively illustrated books that highlighted the Foundation’s tradition of innovation and the positive impact of its grantees in key areas such as agriculture, global health, and the promotion of democratic institutions. The Rockefeller Archive Center made available historic documents from the Foundation’s history through a new website.

  • The Empire State Building Glowing with Rockefeller Foundation Colors
    The Empire State Building glows with Rockefeller Foundation Centennial colors.

The Foundation also leveraged the Centennial celebration to advance its role as a catalyst for innovation. Starting two years before the anniversary itself, it hosted a series of annual Innovation Forums that brought together a wide range of private and public sector leaders to discuss cutting-edge solutions to problems facing the world’s vulnerable populations. The first forum, held in July 2011, focused on identifying major challenges confronting the poor or vulnerable in U.S. cities; the second, hosted in June 2013, explored how the benefits of new technologies can positively impact low-income populations around the world; and the third, held in December 2013, centered on urban resilience. During this same period, the Foundation sponsored a series of Innovation Challenges that solicited innovative ideas around issues such as enhancing irrigation efficiency, how data technology can be used to improve the lives of vulnerable populations, and how to improve the lives of workers in the world’s informal economies. Competition winners received grants of up to $100,000 to pursue their ideas.

The Rockefeller Foundation also used its Centennial as a platform for the launch of its 100 Resilient Cities (100RC) initiative, which is currently helping 100 cities around the world become more resilient to the physical, social and economic challenges of the 21st century. In addition, the Centennial provided an opportunity for the Foundation to sharpen and bolster its overall communications infrastructure, in terms of both traditional media outreach and a more active online presence through social media, digital storytelling, and other avenues. This enhanced capability continues to have an important impact today.

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