PRESIDENT'S ESSAY

Hard Choices

As we have always done, and to make this new work possible, MacArthur is making decisions to move out of some fields. Like other foundations, investment in particular areas is not meant to continue in perpetuity. Efforts may have achieved their original goals or helped bring about significant progress. For some, the moment of greatest impact may have passed; for others, new resources may be available; or, after exploration, it may be clear that our resources could yield greater value elsewhere.  

While not all decisions have been made, we are acutely aware of the difficulties and disappointments that a change in course can create for valued partners and perhaps whole fields. In every case, our goal is to take the time and make the investment to leave a field stronger than when we entered it, and to help ensure a legacy of healthy, influential organizations and a foundation for future progress.  

We may provide additional support to allow time to secure other funding or resources to fill a gap or address a final, important issue. We may fund a formal, multi-year “legacy” effort to secure progress achieved, lay the institutional foundation for future reform by others, attract new funders, and to connect organizations to new relationships and resources.

Juvenile Justice

After two decades, we are ending support for work in juvenile justice. Seminal research examined the developmental differences between adolescents and adults. Behavioral and neuroscience research findings made it clear that young people are fundamentally different from adults, and that treating juvenile offenders as adults, relying on incarceration, and failing to commit resources to rehabilitation and treatment is fundamentally unfair, unjust, and expensive; produces negative consequences; jeopardizes public safety; and compromises future life chances. Moreover, the juvenile justice system takes its greatest toll on low-income individuals and communities of color. This led to efforts to translate these findings into policy and practice in over 40 states and tribal communities, and a national, multi-donor campaign for state-level policy change.

The research influenced four landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions on the juvenile death penalty and life sentences without parole. In states and local jurisdictions, the effort helped safely divert youths from the justice system, reduce incarceration and its harms, promote racial and ethnic fairness, and generate system reform models, tools, and resources for use by others. With others active on the issue, the campaign is helping to fuel real momentum for reform across the country. Much remains to be done, but the trajectory for positive change is undeniable.

Housing

After more than 15 years, we are also bringing our U.S. housing programs to a close. While the nation’s needs for affordable housing remain acute, the importance of rental housing as part of a balanced national policy is now widely accepted. Our long-term investments in leading nonprofit housing owners, financing vehicles, practitioner networks, policy organizations, and state and local government initiatives helped strengthen the entire field, while directly supporting the preservation and improvement of tens of thousands of affordable rental homes across the country. Billions of dollars in new public and private capital have been leveraged and revitalized properties have demonstrated cost-effective, tangible benefits for residents of modest means, and entire communities. There also is a body of high-quality research that makes an empirical case for housing as a “platform” that supports success in other areas of life.

Although we are moving away from making new commitments in housing, research findings will continue to inform policy and many of our previously awarded impact investments will continue to provide valuable capital for the next several years. This is part of the long tail of work underway, with high expectations for success.

Population and Reproductive Health

Population and reproductive health has been a long-standing focus for the Foundation, including for our offices in Nigeria, India, and Mexico. Nigeria and India have the largest numbers of maternal deaths annually, and we have supported interventions there that have contributed to a decline. With the Millennium Development Goals and a global focus on access, more women than ever are delivering in facilities. To sustain gains and continue to decrease maternal death rates, the field is shifting its focus beyond access to services to high-quality, equitable, and respectful care.

Over the next several years, we will bring this work to a close. Before we leave the field, we want to ensure that progress is sustainable and that momentum exists for further improvement. In Mexico, where progress has been the greatest, we will support a capstone project to make trained professional midwives a vital part of the healthcare system. A cadre of professional, trained midwives can relieve burdens on hospitals, while providing essential care during healthy deliveries. In India, where access to healthcare has increased and more women than ever are delivering in institutions, our final efforts will aim to shift the focus of policy and practice toward the next challenge of improving the overall quality of this care. The next wave of change in maternal health will require new approaches and in each country we aim to leave the field poised to take them on.

Digital Media and Learning

For a decade, grantees have explored the notion that young people’s use of digital media in their out-of-school lives has profound implications for education. Much has been accomplished through extensive, seminal research and experimentation—an entirely new field; innovative pedagogy called Connected Learning; and a new approach to young people’s civic engagement. Other outcomes include motivating support for innovative educators; new learning applications through competitions; and new approaches to assessing hard to measure skills with video games. Hive Learning Networks bring civic, cultural, and learning institutions together to provide immersive learning experiences in a city; badges are gaining currency as credentials that make learning more visible and valuable; new schools and teen-endorsed facilities in libraries and museums demonstrate Connected Learning in action; and more. Buoyed by an investment of more than $200 million, this promising effort has grown well beyond what MacArthur can support.   

The next step is to experiment with a new organizational model that can attract a more diverse set of partners and investors, explore alternative funding models and mechanisms, and accommodate a more entrepreneurial and innovative approach to achieving the ambitious goal of reimagining what learning is and how it is supported. This fall, we will launch a new, independent nonprofit whose goal is the scale and spread of the innovations developed by the many organizations we have supported.    

Other Areas

Good work making a significant contribution in global migration and U.S. immigration, girls’ secondary education in developing countries, aspects of international peace and security, and strengthening American democracy are also examples of initiatives and programs we will bring to an end over the next few years.