A portrait of Robert L. Gallucci

MacArthur Foundation Former President, Robert L. Gallucci

Philanthropy and the Future


I see a set of powerful global trends that are destined to drive significant changes. The full dimensions of these changes are still unclear.

Climate change will likely alter food production patterns and the availability of fresh water, and increase the competition for scarce resources. Rapid industrialization and development, and growing populations have already put a premium on commodities around the world. This trend will intensify if weather patterns disrupt production and supply patterns, and may lead to conflict.

The rapid urbanization of the world is unprecedented. By 2040, the number of those who live in cities will double to six billion, comprising 65 percent of the world’s population and 84 percent of Americans. Virtually every aspect of life will be impacted – our security, privacy, access to food, health care, jobs, transportation, energy, environment, and recreation. City planning, government, and needed public services have a daunting transformation ahead, and the intellectual work required is only beginning.

The world’s population is aging rapidly – most obviously in the developed world, where there will soon be, as one analyst puts it, “more walkers than strollers.” But the consequences of demographic change will be felt most acutely in the developing world, much of which will grow old before it grows rich. The burden of supporting the old will be felt by the young in disproportionate ways. Though there are no easy solutions, the longer reform in tax, welfare, health, and other systems is postponed, the more painful the consequences will be.

Technology continues to revolutionize the collection, transmission, and analysis of information. We will reap many benefits – more useful data, quicker communication, ubiquitous access to news, more efficient management and governance. But privacy in our actions and communication, as we have understood it for centuries, will be gone.

This is a trend to watch and to manage.

It seems likely that the “wave of democracy” will wash over more countries in the coming years. What this will mean, in practical terms, is less clear than we may have expected a few years ago. More, and freer, elections constitute a promising trend. But genuine liberal democracy flourishes in a complex ecosystem that includes freedom of expression, the rule of law, respect for individual rights, and responsive, effective governance in the best interest of citizens. The retreat from democracy in Russia, the chaotic aftermath of the Arab Spring, and the uneven course of events in Latin America and Africa are useful reminders that the path to good government is not direct. Complex cultural and historical factors are at play, not easily amenable to “universal principles.”