Dr. Rajiv Shah, President of The Rockefeller Foundation, explores what it takes to tackle tough problems and shape the future.
In 1913, The Rockefeller Foundation was chartered to fulfill an unprecedented and enduring mission: to promote the well-being of humanity throughout the world.
We were born at a moment of transformation, as breakthroughs in science and technology created the potential for rapid progress. And over the past 105 years of philanthropic innovation and impact, we have consistently brought together unconventional actors to solve the world’s toughest problems – working 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 try and end hookworm, develop a groundbreaking vaccine for yellow fever, and pioneer modern systems of public health to benefit everyone. During the Great Depression, we brought together America’s leading economists to grapple with US 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 fed more than a billion people.
More recently, our partners and grantees have continued to deliver results that matter. Together we helped New Orleans, New York, and cities around the world plan for and recover from devastating climate events. Our Smart Power India program and its partners 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 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.
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 meant to serve their needs and interests. In this moment, it is 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, we have an unshakeable belief in the power of people to solve big problems.
Now is a pivotal moment as rapid advancements in science and technology offer millions of people the chance of a better life. It is unacceptable that in a world capable of so much, there are still so many with so little. That is why, as The Rockefeller Foundation moves into a new era, we will make fewer but larger investments to accelerate breakthrough solutions in health, food, power, jobs, and resilient cities to ensure the benefits of progress and prosperity are shared by all. And we will continue to innovate using tools in data, science, and finance – reaffirming our commitment to take risks others can’t, or won’t, that can dramatically extend the reach of our work.
Across our history, The Rockefeller Foundation has boldly pushed itself to look out 20, 30, 40, 50 years into the future to consider what transformational activities will ensure the broadest swath of humanity benefits from progress and innovation.
As I look to the decades ahead, I am so inspired about what is possible. Each day, our team is strengthened by the inspiration we get from those we serve: The young mother in a village who lacks access to basic health services. The boy whose chronic malnutrition keeps 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 America 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 have been fortunate to know, support, and be inspired by so many individuals, partners, and grantees working hard every day to promote the well-being of humanity. Together we have tackled some of the world’s toughest problems, and together we will continue to shape the future.