Discovery Grants are identified and selected by a cross-program group of foundation staff and outside advisors, and awarded to promising but unproven approaches to important social problems.

Generally, Discovery Grants:

  • address important social issues where the Foundation can have an impact
  • respond to timely opportunities
  • promise outcomes that can be assessed
  • are ambitious
  • demonstrate awareness of future trends and needs

Grants are not restricted to a particular set of topics, but they must address an important social issue outside of one of the Foundation’s areas of grantmaking.  Grants are one time, typically for no more than two years, with amounts ranging from $15,000 to $500,000. Grants are awarded based on the recommendation of the Discovery Grants Committee, which is drawn from across the foundation and holds meetings open to all MacArthur staff roughly ten times per year.

Questions may be sent to


Representative Discovery Grants

Columbia University

$500,000 over two years
September 2013

Based at Columbia University, the Declassification Engine is a new multidisciplinary initiative bringing together social scientists and data scientists to help break the logjam within the U.S. government over how to manage official secrecy in the age of "big data." By developing new computational methods and creating open source tools, it seeks to demonstrate how technology can ensure maximum efficiency, transparency, and accountability consistent with national security imperatives, with the aim of helping to improve and expedite the declassification process. At the same time, this technology will help citizens take ownership of the public record and hold government more accountable on the choices made about secrecy.


Jail Education Solutions (JES)

$325,000 over one year
September 2013

Jail Education Solutions was established in 2013 to help reduce mass incarceration and its impact on communities. Its first project, with Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, will curate and produce educational video content that addresses the specific information needs of people being held in jail awaiting trial or prison.  The Committee recommended a grant to support 20 hours of original content, an evaluation, and the creation of a web portal. Committee members noted that this project addresses an important social problem of great concern to the foundation, but in a way that does not fit within existing programs or strategies. Committee members also noted that JES had strong support within Sheriff’s department.


Oxfam America: EquiTABLE Food Initiative

$300,000 over two years
September 2012

The EquiTABLE Food Initiative is field testing standards for food safety, environmental sustainability, and labor for U.S. produce.  After decades of campaigns, organizing, and policy advocacy, three-fifths of America’s 1.4 million farm workers live in poverty, and unsafe foods cause an estimated 76 million illnesses and 5,000 deaths each year in the United States. Despite consumers’ growing concern regarding these issues, America lacks a broad-based, effective means to ensure environmental and food safety standards. The multi-stakeholder effort involves leading food retailers, growers and farm workers, food safety and environmental organizations who have developed the standards and will test them on a limited number of markets as a first phase. The Committee recommended a grant based on the program’s potential to address several important social problems in a novel way, and to grow to a much larger size given modest support now. It has since been profiled in The New York Times.


International Living Future Institute: Financing Green Buildings

$100,000 over one year
September 2012

Accounting more accurately for the benefits of green building practices could help transfer hundreds of billions of dollars of real estate investment towards restorative buildings—those that function in a symbiotic relationship with the natural environment. This grant will allow the International Living Future Institute to bring together leading real estate, finance, and environmental experts concerned about climate change to frame a new way of assessing how green buildings impact the environment. The Committee recommended a grant based on its potential to inform investment decisions in real estate. 


Portrait of Elspeth A. Revere

Elspeth A. Revere

Vice President, Media, Culture, and Special Initiatives
Portrait of Jeff Ubois

Jeff Ubois

Program Officer