Vallabh Rao

The Rockefeller Foundation at 100 Years: The Road Ahead

John D. Rockefeller started the Rockefeller Foundation on May 14, 1913, with the goal of “improving the well-being of humanity throughout the world.” As part of its centennial celebrations The Rockefeller Foundation has launched various initiatives including the Innovation Challenges. Michael Myers, senior policy officer and director of Centennial Programming at The Rockefeller Foundation answered a few questions about the Innovations Challenge and the centennial.

The Rockefeller Foundation looks to attract global changemakers whose ideas could lead to new services, tools, and choices in the following three issue areas as part of the Innovation Challenges:

DECODING DATA: Ideas that create better ways to address urban challenges through the application of data.

IRRIGATING EFFICIENCY: Ideas that help reduce barriers—such as lack of investment, incentives, or political will and capacity—to implementing and scaling agricultural water use efficiency.

FARMING NOW: Ideas that encourage and help young farmers to become more productive, more resilient, and more profitable by addressing cultural perceptions, economic conditions, and/or climate change.

Vallabh Rao: What was the reason behind choosing the above three particular themes for the 2012 Innovation Challenges?

Michael Myers: During our Innovation Forum in July of 2011, we focused on three distinct issue areas that are very important to us – urbanization, food security and water security. But then we tried something different. First, we invited inventive people from a variety of different backgrounds and places to look at these issues together. We had academics, business leaders, government officials, non-profits and others sitting side by side to examine the same issue. Second, we asked them to identify the problems that must be solved in each area – not the solutions, just the problems. We thought that if we could encourage an exploration of the issues from a variety of unique perspectives, we might begin to see new angles on old challenges. The results were amazing. In total, these groups identified 34 distinct problems which we made widely available to anyone wishing to tackle them. Then we identified 6 of the 34 that we thought the Rockefeller Foundation might best pursue. Three of these we are doing through our own internal search process. The other three we are doing through the 2012 Innovation Challenges – one from each of the issue areas above.

For more information on the ideas, click here.

VR: Two out of the three issue areas are related to agriculture, what was the impetus behind this decision?

MM: Actually, we chose one challenge topic for each of the three issue areas that participants addressed at our Innovation Forum – on urban challenges, water security and food security. But I admit that water and food issues both relate to our long-time work in agriculture, of which we are enormously proud. Agriculture has been a large part of the Foundation’s legacy. We were at the forefront of the Green Revolution in agriculture which saved more than a billion lives. One of our staff members, the late Norman Borlaug, won a Nobel Prize for his work to bring enhanced agricultural techniques to regions throughout the world. It is only fitting that on the cusp of our Centennial year, we would launch our challenges with two ideas that are very closely aligned to our history.

VR: How does the road ahead look for The Rockefeller Foundation at this juncture after 100 years?

MM: We see our 100th anniversary as a chance to look ahead, analyze which global issues will dominate the next decade and beyond, and sculpt new ideas and new ways for addressing them. We went to use this occasion to do all we can to equip ourselves to solve the problems of the future. I think the theme that we have chosen for our Centennial Initiative conveys that. “Innovation for the Next 100 Years.”

VR: What are some of the other activities and initiatives that are planned as a part of the centennial?

MM: The Centennial will celebrate the richness of the Foundation’s past work, of course. But we are even more focused on using this anniversary to enhance our impact on pressing global issues and to elicit innovative ideas for the future. We are doing this through seven convenings on different topics around the world that will build new relationships and surface concrete ideas for action. We are boosting our online presence to engage more and more people around the world in identifying solutions. We will create a Global Engagement Network to facilitate this conversation. We are producing a book series that addresses modern questions such as the role of technology in human progress by drawing on the lessons from our own century of experience. We see this milestone as an unprecedented opportunity for the Foundation to engage global audiences to find solutions to complex issues that affect poor or vulnerable populations throughout the world.

To find out more about the centennial initiatives click here:

financial inclusion, philanthropy, rural development