MacArthur Foundation to Focus on Large-Scale, Solution-Based Programs

MacArthur Foundation to Focus on Large-Scale, Solution-Based Programs

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has announced a shift in its grantmaking strategy that will see it focus on "solution-driven" approaches to key challenges and a doubling down on its "commitment to help build a world that is more just, verdant, and peaceful."

In an essay in the organization's 2014 annual report, MacArthur Foundation president Julia M. Stasch writes that, in order to create more "transformative impact," the foundation "will work primarily through programs and projects that are larger in scale, time-limited in nature, or designed to reach specific objectives," with "less emphasis on program areas with an indefinite lifespan."

"MacArthur's next chapter will be characterized by big bets that strive toward transformative change in areas of profound concern,"  said Stasch, who became president of the Chicago-based foundation in March. "This is not a search for quick fixes or easy wins, but an all-in, timely commitment — of talent, resources, time, and reputation — to real change that matters for many, many people."

The foundation's "big bets," according to Stasch, include the Safety and Justice Challenge, in which the foundation has invested an initial $75 million to reform the U.S. criminal justice system and reduce mass incarceration, and a new Climate Solutions program that in 2015 has awarded $50 million in support of efforts to build and sustain U.S. leadership in the fight against climate change. Other areas the foundation is looking at closely include a new approach to reducing the threat posed by nuclear weapons, fighting corruption and reforming the criminal justice system in Nigeria, and partnering with other organizations to expand the flow of capital for impact investments in support of social change. The foundation also plans to award $100 million every three years in support of a single proposal to solve or significantly mitigate a major problem or seize a compelling opportunity.

As it shifts more of its resources to these and other challenges, MacArthur will wind down programs in other areas — including juvenile justice, housing, population and reproductive health, global migration and U.S. immigration, girls' secondary education in developing countries, aspects of international peace and security, and strengthening American democracy — over the next few years. Similarly, its digital media and learning program will be spun off this fall as a separate nonprofit organization. However, the foundation will maintain and renew support for the MacArthur Fellows, Chicago, and Journalism and Media programs and will also dedicate funds to research and exploration of what it calls "What if?" questions in critical areas.

"We must make hard choices about the ways we allocate our limited resources, how we use our time and talent, and the risk we are willing to take," writes Stasch. "Change is hard; failing to change is not an option."

Julia Stasch. "Time for Change." MacArthur Foundation Annual Report President's Essay 08/13/2015.