By Rex Sinquefield , May 16, 2013
This week, the Rockefeller Foundation celebrates its 100th birthday. Notably, the organization has named innovation as the key component for its philanthropy in the next century.
The finalists for this new round of funding clearly articulate the interests of Rockefeller and a growing number of contemporary large scale donors. The Foundation’s “Next Century Innovator Awards” focus on projects that transform society and reimagine new approaches to the treatment of cancer, sanitation, education, social-service program funding, and marketplace literacy, just to name a few.
One of the more interesting programs, and one of this year’s three awardees, is Innovate Salone of Sierra Leone. Anyone who believes that poor children cannot learn need not look any further than this incredible program for proof that they are wrong.
Through Innovate Salone, young people are given the opportunity and the support they need to develop workable solutions to problems that they have identified in their own communities. Winning ideas are financially supported, and prototypes are improved during a summer camp at which students benefit from the input given by peers and mentors. A network of support works with the youth to advance the project while building a culture of innovation in local communities.
Clearly, in Sierra Leone, there is an opportunity to challenge established attitudes that limit self-realization and community development.
The Rockefeller Foundation joins a growing group of new donors who are sharpening their philanthropic focus. The potential societal impact of these new giving programs is vastly greater than that made by simply writing a large check every year.
Universities also have taken a giant step toward reimagining the future of higher education, as demonstrated by the remarkable success of Harvard’s MOOC program. The opportunity for expanding student access to some of our country’s best educational institutions will mean real advantages for students who otherwise would not have such opportunities.
Ten years ago, my good friend Garry Kasparov created the Kasparov Chess Foundation, which promotes the study of chess in schools all around the world. Headquartered in New York, the Foundation developed a comprehensive K-12 chess curriculum that, according to the website, ”encourages creativity, instills self-discipline and offers hope and a feeling of accomplishment to millions of children.”
Reimagining the future of education here in Missouri is something on which my wife Jeanne and I spend a considerate amount of effort and resources. We have integrated our commitment to improving high quality educational access and student outcomes with our two personal passions (music and composition for Jeanne, chess for me.) In St. Louis, through the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis, which sponsor chess programs in hundreds of classrooms and community centers throughout the region, we have seen firsthand how behavior and performance improve once students enroll in our chess program.
Across the street, the World Chess Hall of Fame is developing interesting programs that establish new paradigms for what defines an arts organization and the impact it can have on a community. Exhibitions explore chess’ connection to such diverse fields as hip-hop, fashion, nature, science, and contemporary art.
Jeanne’s commitment to finding and growing young composers is changing the trajectory of hundreds of Missouri students’ lives. For the last seven years, the Missouri New Music Initiative has provided young composers with the training and opportunities to compose, to have their music performed, and to have their music to be recorded.
Philanthropy can directly impact the long-term future of our youth, schools, healthcare initiatives, and the arts. Social impact giving programs now are found in communities from Bogota to Botswana, and the key driver for most of the successful programs is innovation. As physicist William Pollard once said, “Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.”
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