Chicago, IL (June 22, 2007) – The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which last year launched a $50 million initiative to build the field of digital media and learning, will explore the role of philanthropy in virtual worlds.  MacArthur President Jonathan Fanton made the announcement today during a virtual conversation with Linden Lab CEO Philip Rosedale in Second Life, the first in a series of activities to learn how the Foundation can be helpful in advancing the use of virtual worlds for social benefit. 

“We hope that residents of virtual worlds understand that the presence of MacArthur and other foundations is about more than giving away money,” said Fanton.  “We can help create a global network of individuals, groups and organizations committed to building more just virtual and physical worlds.  We hope MacArthur will be seen as a trusted source of information and ideas, one that is eager to support debate and discussion about complex issues.” 

MacArthur is awarding $550,000 to the University of Southern California’s Center on Public Diplomacy at the Annenberg School for Communication to lead this exploration of the role of philanthropy in virtual worlds.  Specific activities MacArthur is planning include –

• Conversations in virtual worlds about pressing issues and how a foundation can help address community needs;
• Virtual world simulcasts of face-to-face conversations on issues that impact real and virtual worlds, such as migration, human rights, education, and global and civic engagement; and
• Over time, MacArthur funding for philanthropy-related projects in virtual worlds, awarded on a competitive basis. 

“Second Life is all about community, so it can be a great way to collaboratively explore new philanthropic and non-profit initiatives,” said Philip Rosedale, CEO at Linden Lab. “I’m looking forward to seeing what amazing projects are developed.”

Virtual worlds, like Second Life and There.com, are about much more than games.  From your computer, you can access three-dimensional, vibrant participatory communities and interact with millions of residents.  They have their own currency, newspapers, universities, and stores.  These worlds are created by and for residents, who are inspired by their needs and their imagination.  Virtual worlds, which are becoming more user-friendly and more popular, are already critical tools for business collaboration and social activities.  Increasingly, they are also home to an emergent non-profit community.  For example, a recent Walk for Hunger in Second Life drew nearly 400 participants. 

MacArthur already supports several projects with components in virtual worlds.  For example, designers of a new school in New York are preparing a prototype “future of the school” building for interactive testing and feedback.  Also, teachers in an after-school program invite inner city youth to build three-dimensional sculptures and create activities in Second Life that demonstrate their passion for a civic issue. 

MacArthur is cautious about claims that technology can solve longstanding social problems.  The unintended or negative consequences of virtual worlds may demand the attention of foundations as urgently as any exciting benefits.  

MacArthur’s digital media and learning initiative aims to help determine how digital technologies are changing the way young people learn, play, socialize, and participate in civic life.  Answers are critical to developing educational and other social institutions that can meet the needs of this and future generations.  More information is available at www.macfound.org/programs/learning or on the initiative’s blog at spotlight.macfound.org, where Fanton posts regularly. 

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation is a private, independent grant making institution dedicated to helping groups and individuals foster lasting improvement in the human condition. With assets of more than $6 billion, the Foundation makes approximately $225 million in grants annually.   For more information about the Foundation, please visit www.macfound.org.

Digital Media & Learning, Education, Technology, Youth