To mark the 100th anniversary of the Carnegie Corporation, we asked several philanthropic leaders about the most audacious grants of the past century—and what grants made today will be talked about 100 years hence.
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Andrew Carnegie’s “Gospel of Wealth” described a rationale for philanthropy, not as charity, but as a strategic investment to protect capitalism from rival economic systems (like communism). You might argue that the Gates-Buffett Giving Pledge is fulfilling a similar role today. Yet an even more profound innovation may be the Global Impact Investing Network—a creation of the Rockefeller Foundation, J.P. Morgan, and others—which aims to solve social or environmental challenges while generating financial profit. The potential impact is massive: it aspires to leverage trillions of dollars to build a better world. And it is risky—like all great philanthropy.
—Matthew Bishop and Michael Green
Co-authors, Philanthrocapitalism and The Road from Ruin
Bishop is U.S. business editor of the Economist
There will undoubtedly be advances over the next 100 years we cannot even begin to comprehend. But unless people are healthy and vital citizens, not much else will matter. I believe the single greatest opportunity to improve the human condition lies in genomics and stem cell research, which is why we and others have invested heavily in those areas. The innovative work being conducted by scientists and researchers at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard into genomic medicine has the potential to improve the health of generations by discovering the cure to cancer, heart disease, and other debilitating ailments. The stem cell research being done in California is poised to help doctors treat ravaging diseases like Alzheimer’s and reverse debilitating injuries and paralysis.
Co-founder, Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation
Giving Pledge signatory
Not to be excessively provocative, but I believe that the best investment is that made by the government of the United States. By foregoing taxes related to charitable giving, it puts the power to change the world for the better in the hands of individuals, knowing that individuals can often do this better than government. Alexis de Tocqueville observed in the 1830s the American tendency to create voluntary approaches for improving society. This is no less important today, especially as some would reduce the tax incentives for charitable foundations. Indeed, in so many fields—whether the work of creating vaccines (such as Jonas Salk’s in polio), of conducting research (such as that of the Michael J. Fox Foundation in Parkinson’s), or the brilliant work in distributing vaccines (such as that conducted by the Gates Foundation)—private philanthropy succeeds because private philanthropists can risk noble failure, and thereby achieve great success and a better future. A century from today, Chinese, Indian, Brazilian, and other global leaders will remark on the brilliance of American tax policy for encouraging innovation and improving the world, far more so than any single investment that is being made at this moment in time.
Founder and chairman, Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies
Forbes World’s Billionaires ranking: 488
One hundred years from now, we will marvel at how philanthropists used social networking, mobile applications, and film to engage the public and democratize philanthropy. Mobile applications and cause-related websites are a worldwide phenomenon, engaging millions and allowing them to donate resources instantly (consider, for example, the philanthropic response to Haiti in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake). And the film An Inconvenient Truth changed global opinions about the environmental impact of global warming.
—Emmett D. Carson
President and CEO, Silicon Valley Community Foundation
Asset size: $1.8 billion
A century is a long time. Since I have to answer, and because I believe in the work we do in our own backyard, I hope it is something that has grown out of our support for the W. M. Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, and particularly its work in the field of degenerative diseases of the brain, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Chairman, president, and CEO,
W. M. Keck Foundation
Total giving since 1979: $1 billion +
A century from now is too far in the future, since the growth of exponential technologies (nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, robotics, biotechnology) are going to empower small groups over the next 30 years to do what only governments and large corporations were able to accomplish. Over the next 30 years, philanthropy, perhaps using incentive prizes (or X Prizes), will be able to tackle most of humanity’s grand challenges. I believe small teams of researchers and entrepreneurs, funded by charitable investments and inspired by prizes, will be able to give us a future of abundance, where people around the world will have abundant energy, clean water, health care, education, and food. Today, a villager in Africa on a mobile phone has better telecom than the President of the United States did 20 years ago—and if they’re on Google, they have more information at their fingertips than did the President 15 years ago. These Africans are living in a world of communications and information abundance. So, ultimately, in a 30-to-50-year timeframe, I believe that philanthropists will be talking about the end of energy scarcity, water scarcity, hunger, and various diseases.
Chairman and CEO, X Prize Foundation
Don Fisher’s investment in KIPP; John Walton and Ted Forstmann’s generous seeding of the Children’s Scholarship Fund; and the Gates Foundation’s support for development of “common core” academic standards for American schools. The first proved both that schools can succeed dramatically with disadvantaged students—and that such schools can be replicated. The second showed the appetite for, and success of, vouchers in meeting the educational needs of low-income youngsters. And the third is gradually moving the U.S. into the 21st century by establishing shared—and ambitious—academic expectations for schools across the land.
—Chester E. Finn Jr.
President and CEO, Thomas B. Fordham Foundation
A century from now, people will talk about how American philanthropists embraced the nation’s diversity and its immigrant communities. Americans will talk about charitable investments that advanced the successful integration of immigrants into society. They will note philanthropic efforts to understand and articulate the critical issues, to support the education of newcomer communities in the English language and other life and work skills, and to develop strategies at the policy level through coalitions of thought-leaders and decision-makers in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors.
President and CEO, California Community Foundation
America’s sixth-largest community foundation
Close to one billion people still lack access to safe water. Not only is clean water key in addressing human suffering through disease prevention—in developing countries, 80 percent of the sicknesses and between two and five million deaths are water related—but the provision of safe water is recognized to be an important factor for the sustainability of other critical development needs, including education, livelihoods, nutrition, and gender equality. It is also widely acknowledged that water will be an issue of global security in the future. For that reason, multiple foundations—including the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Howard Buffett Foundation—are working hard to provide access to safe water throughout the world
—Steven M. Hilton
President and CEO, Conrad N. Hilton Foundation
One of America’s 25 largest foundations
What I want people to talk about, now and a century from today, is how most problems were solved because of collaboration from charitable organizations and many others. Matters like climate change or the health of the world’s oceans affect each of us locally, but we can’t have significant impact on these problems if we operate locally or by ourselves. That’s why, for example, our foundation invested in ClimateWorks—working together on the regions and sectors most responsible for carbon emissions. These problems are complicated and urgent. A century from today, I hope there will be talk about how we all came together to work on them.
President and CEO, David and Lucile Packard Foundation
Asset size: $5.7 billion
Successful stem cell research will be originated from existing human cells, not from the harvesting of live embryos, in order to improve human life.
—Lewis E. Lehrman
Co-founder, Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History
A hundred years from now, people will be talking about the Giving Pledge started by the Gateses—Bill and Melinda—and Warren Buffett. By asking the wealthiest people around the world to consider the responsibilities that go along with great wealth, the Giving Pledge will generate new gifts that go far beyond what we can imagine now. Our ongoing challenge will be to make sure that these resources are used effectively for the common good.
—H. F. (“Gerry”) Lenfest
Co-founder, Lenfest Foundation
Total giving to date: $800 million
If you believe, as I do, that the vitality of Western civilization owes largely to the creative tension between Athens and Jerusalem, reason and revelation, and if you believe, as I do, that the modern university has largely abandoned its historic role as cultivator of that creative tension, then the choice becomes a lot easier. Through its support of the serious engagement of science and religion, through its work to explore the deepest questions of human existence, the institution principally responsible for renewing the vitality of Western civilization will be the John Templeton Foundation.
It’s not clear how the current debate about strategic versus responsive philanthropy will look a century from now; the jury’s still out on that issue. There’s no doubt, however, that people will marvel at the explosion in the sheer numbers of foundations created in our time. I also suspect that in 100 years, the early 21st century will look like a turning point when the American model of philanthropy began to spread all over the world, taking root across the globe. We can only imagine the fascinating ways in which our model will be transformed in other places.
Interim president and CEO, J. Paul Getty Trust
Third-largest U.S. foundation by asset size
The Greater Kansas City Community Foundation’s board of directors made a bold decision 10 years ago with a grant to create the DonorEdge system of nonprofit profiles. Donors today can choose from dozens of tools as they look for data about their favorite charities, but few of these resources existed in 2001. Today, the DonorEdge platform, now powered by GuideStar, contains profiles of over 3,800 nonprofits nationwide, many of which have “reviewed” status, indicating that community foundation staff has added expertise to the information. DonorEdge isn’t alone any more, either. For example, Charity Navigator now boasts over 5,500 in-depth nonprofit profiles.
President and CEO, Greater Kansas City Community Foundation
Asset size: $1.1 billion
The old media of newspapers and magazines face economic uncertainty, but investigative reporting and incisive commentary will remain alive and well—in part because philanthropists are waking up to the incredible potential of nonprofit journalism. The Woodwards and Bernsteins of the future probably won’t work at the Washington Post. Instead, they’ll affiliate with groups that depend on private contributions. They may be attached to think tanks or behave as independent actors with webcams and Twitter accounts. Whatever the particulars, the charitable investors behind them hold the potential to transform the collection and distribution of news.
—John J. Miller
Chairman and executive director, Student Free Press Association
A century from today, people will be talking about how this was the era that shifted from funding programs to funding revenue engines. A revenue engine can produce multiples of 10, 20, 100, even 1,000 times the initial grant. It makes the traditional dollar-of-service for dollar-of-grant approach look like the relic that, in reality, it always was.
Author, Uncharitable: How Restraints on Nonprofits Undermine Their Potential
Much fuss is made over purportedly new models of philanthropy such as “venture” philanthropy and “social” entrepreneurship—yet by and large these represent simply old ideas in new rhetorical clothing. Truly innovative philanthropy is being pioneered by a variety of foundations and philanthropists focused on the development of drugs targeting specific diseases. To accomplish their missions, these groups happily work with and even fund for-profit biomedical companies because, in contrast to large swaths of the nonprofit sector, they see that such advances can often only come from entrepreneurs in new businesses. The work of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation in particular stands out for its mode of operating—and the successes it has achieved.
—Carl J. Schramm
President and CEO, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation
One hundred years from now, I suspect people will be talking not so much about a single investment, but about how innovative thinkers and philanthropists collaboratively tried to address the current crisis in public education. Billions of dollars are being invested to help our nation make the critical transition to a knowledge-based economy. Emphasis is being placed on early childhood through post-secondary education—and everything in between—including new K–12 learning models, improving teacher quality, after-school programs, middle colleges, and community colleges. And it is taking the collective efforts of many foundations, businesses, and governments to seed, demonstrate, evaluate, and spread the best practices emerging from this work. Regardless of whether we are successful in redesigning the American education system, the partnerships that are being created today among the public, private, and nonprofit sectors surely will be worth discussing and dissecting years from now.
—William S. White
Chairman, president, and CEO, Charles Stewart Mott Foundation
Asset size: $2 billion +