That is what I think of as "engineering": engineers realize the theoretically possible with the techniques and materials available. Like our grantees, they find ways to get things done.
I have seen this tactical ability across the world, as grantees explore new ways to tackle challenges and accomplish their goals.
They use technology, as I saw in Nigeria, where young IT specialists working with the National Human Rights Commission were using mobile phones to monitor primary elections across the nation.
Conservation groups, such as Tany Meva in Madagascar, are introducing safer, efficient, renewable-energy stoves in rural areas, technology that both improves health and safety and conserves the forests.
The Quest to Learn School in New York is the first school with a pedagogical approach based on game design and systems thinking. Students use digital media platforms to learn through "missions" that help them inquire, create, and master both traditional competencies and the new skills the 21st century demands. The first ChicagoQuest campus will open in the fall.
Other grantees are helping to change large systems. Those participating in the Models for Change program are seeking to reform juvenile justice across America. I visited Louisiana, one of the states in which Models for Change is at work, and saw the Bridge City Center for Youth.
Bridge City shows the effects of reform. It has made a comfortable and personal environment to house young offenders, in contrast with the large (and sometimes dangerous) dormitories that are often the norm for young offenders in Louisiana and elsewhere.
I spoke with several of the boys and was struck by their vulnerability—and their potential. We owe young offenders a justice system that respects their dignity and gives them opportunities to be rehabilitated and reenter society.
In Mexico, I saw efforts to modernize that country's justice system. In 2008, the Mexican Congress passed a reform bill that replaces secretive, document-based trials with processes based on oral testimony—and in which the accused is considered innocent until proven guilty. The Pro Juarez Human Rights Center works with state governments to implement the legislation. We expect that the reforms will lead to more effective prosecutions as well as greater respect for the rights of citizens.
Many of the groups we support work in particularly difficult or dangerous situations; their perseverance keeps the hope of meaningful change alive.
Some of our grantees in reproductive health serve indigenous tribal populations far from cities and mainstream medicine. I visited two in Rajasthan, India: Seva Mandir is an organization working in remote villages, not served by government health programs, to train traditional birth assistants and create links to health care providers. Action Research and Training for Health addresses the shortage of doctors by training nurse midwives. They serve some 60,000 people but, as they made clear to us, their goal is to scale up their work to reach the more than 60 million people who live in Rajasthan. They are training staff from state government as a means to that end.
In Chiapas, Mexico, Kinal Antzetik is an organization dedicated to indigenous women's rights. They are also helping the region's 6,000 traditional midwives gain the skills they need and connect to the health system.
Some of our human rights grantees abroad confront repression and risk intimidation or violence. Organizations such as the CLEEN Foundation and Access to Justice in Nigeria and the Nizhny Novgorod Committee Against Torture in Russia tirelessly take on intractable issues. Their concerns include police reform, extrajudicial killings, and classic human rights such as free speech and equality before the law.
Discovery and Learning
MacArthur has a long tradition of supporting higher education and research, something I, as a former dean, particularly value.
I have been impressed by the quality and relevance of work MacArthur has supported.
I spent time with members of our research network on "How Housing Matters for Children and Families." This is an effort to build a base of evidence about the ways in which good, stable, and affordable housing serves as a platform for better outcomes in other areas—health, employment, education, or public safety.
In Russia, I saw how the New Economic School has helped create a new economics profession, free of Marxist-Leninist dogma, and build a leadership cadre for government, business, and the academy.