Solving society’s most pressing problems is not easy work. But we believe it can be done. The organizations MacArthur supports take on big challenges every day: climate solutions, criminal justice reform, nuclear threats, and corruption in Nigeria.
We know there are urgent problems that lie beyond this scope. And communities, nonprofit organizations, and social enterprises engaged in this work know their own needs best and can make compelling cases for support. But many of those potential solutions may go unnoticed or under resourced, waiting to be brought to scale.
So we asked: how would you change the world with $100 million?
Thus began 100&Change, our 2016-2017 competition for a $100 million grant to fund a single proposal that promises real and measurable progress in solving a critical problem of our time. We received 1,904 proposals.
Our intent was to award $100 million to one organization. However, we realized that 100&Change’s open call had an important side benefit: fostering philanthropic partnerships for other projects. The wealth of ideas for solving problems around the world is valuable to other donors looking to make their own big bets. By making the information available we hoped that organizations would find more opportunities for funding and collaboration.
Here are some of the ways we shared the solutions, curated vetted proposals, and worked with organizations to support their efforts:
We also worked with eight semi-finalists to strengthen their proposals—providing training, technical assistance, and consulting to support fundraising, scaling efforts, and improving inclusivity. Then four finalists shared their solutions at a live event, making the case for their solutions on a public stage.
When we selected the recipient of the $100 million grant, it was to address a truly defining issue of our time: educating children displaced by conflict in the Syrian response region—Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria. Sesame Workshop and International Rescue Committee (IRC) partnered with a plan to address an urgent, timely problem—a crisis that threatens an entire generation of young children. Their solution is the largest early childhood intervention program created in a humanitarian setting.
MacArthur’s Board of Directors could not deny the urgency and quality of the solutions from the other finalists. It was almost an impossible decision, as the Board felt they all represent bold systems change and are worthy of support. To signal that to other funders, we awarded three additional grants of $15 million each to Rice 360° Institute for Global Health, HarvestPlus, and Changing the Way We Care.
And the work has begun. Sesame and IRC’s project required an investment to set up a sustainable infrastructure with the aims to help caregivers’ relationships sustain and help children overcome the traumas of conflict and displacement while setting them up for future success. The three-pronged program includes free educational content, available to all; home visits and caregiving support for 800,000 caregivers reinforced with digital content; and child development centers. Sesame’s programming is being integrated into IRC’s classrooms, health centers, and home visitation programs, and they have adapted materials into more dialects that the children actually speak.
Inspired by 100&Change, the LEGO Foundation was the first to step up and meet MacArthur’s call for bold philanthropy by awarding a $100 million grant to Sesame Workshop to ensure that young children affected by the Rohingya and Syrian crises have opportunities to learn through play and develop skills needed for the future.
We learned many lessons from the first competition for 100&Change, and will apply that knowledge to the next cycle, with another $100 million award, to help address another of the world’s most pressing issues.