Introductory Remarks by Jonathan Fanton at the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions Welcome Event
October 4, 2006 | Speech | MacArthur Award for Creative & Effective Institutions

Good morning.  I am Jonathan Fanton, President of the MacArthur Foundation and I want to extend a warm welcome to all of you.  We are absolutely thrilled to have you here with us today as the first winners of our new MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions. 

I am glad to see so many familiar faces in the room – I am reminded of several trips where I have visited you in Chicago and beyond, and witnessed first hand the wonderful work you are doing.  I want to make special mention of the presence here of so many board members from the organizations we are honoring.  The impact of your voluntary leadership is immeasurable.  In a moment, we will go around the room for introductions, but first a few background comments.

Let me begin by saying something about the MacArthur Foundation and this award.  In the United States, MacArthur is best known for its Fellows Program recognizing creative individuals. The annual announcement that captivates the public’s imagination was made just a few weeks ago. So it may come as a surprise to some that, historically, our deepest commitment has been to building and strengthening institutions. We have assisted over 4000 organizations with grants worth $3.4 billion since our founding in 1978.

The Foundation has a broad mandate pursued through $200 million grants annually in 65 countries.  Internationally, our work focuses on biodiversity conservation and sustainable development; international peace and security; population and reproductive health; human rights and the creation of an international system of justice. This year, we have started a program focusing on the migration and mobility of people.

Our work in the United States addresses the relationship of people, place, and systems.  Our principal programs are: (1) community and economic development; (2) affordable rental housing preservation; (3) juvenile justice reform; and (4) education, with a new focus on the effect of digital media on how young people learn -- in and outside of school. 

Like most foundations, MacArthur does almost nothing alone.  Our hopes, passions, and dreams for a more just, humane and peaceful world rest with those of you on the frontlines – advancing human rights, improving opportunity for the disadvantaged, protecting the environment, securing affordable housing, and all the rest.

The MacArthur Foundation created this award because we wanted to make a strong statement that the institutions of civil society matter.  The 21st Century will be viewed as a tipping point where a new balance between nation states and global citizenship was struck.  Your organizations empower ordinary citizens to shape their own destinies as thousands of civil society organizations world wide form networks to accelerate our journey toward the highest aspirations of human dignity, security, and opportunity.

You are the charter class of MacArthur awardees; others will follow over the years.  But you will always be the first, setting the standard and giving tangible form and character to the awards.  You have been chosen because you have the courage to push the boundaries of the possible, explore uncharted terrains, imagine the unknown and the unknowable, test new models for pursuing illusive goals.  And you have the practical wisdom, the determined competence, the unbounded energy necessary to follow through on your dreams and ambitions.

It is a privilege for us to be able to honor you and thank you for being our partners at home and abroad.  Each of you is central to one of our programs in a place we care deeply about.

Let the spirit of partnership, of mutual respect and affection, of shared values and common purpose, define this celebration.  The ceremony tomorrow will be the formal occasion recognizing your organizations as emblematic of creative and effective civil society groups around the globe.

But today is a more informal opportunity to share experiences and challenges we confront in our daily work.  We have invited colleagues from the wider Chicago community to some of our sessions to learn from you and about you.

* * *

In addition to the grant funds for your organizations, one of our aims with these awards is to provide opportunities for both mutual learning and greater visibility.  Over the next two days and during the full duration of your travels here, we hope that you will meet with individuals who can help you advance your work through funding, collaboration, or the sharing of knowledge and ideas.  Through the workshop this morning, your meetings in Chicago and elsewhere in the U.S., and informal conversations with peers and MacArthur staff members, we hope that you will return to your organizations with new energy, ideas, skills, and contacts to enrich your work.  We have invited the media to cover these awards and there may be opportunities for the press to meet with you.  We hope that MacArthur’s reputation will help bring your organizations wider attention in your home communities or countries, as well as internationally. 

Let me close on a personal note. This is my seventh year at the MacArthur Foundation. Prior to this I was President of the New School for Social Research in Manhattan for almost two decades. Without a doubt, I have learned more from individuals like you during my time at MacArthur than I did during all the years I spent at universities – about fields I barely knew, places I had only dimly imagined.  Most of all, I have learned that the world is full of good people – smart, decent, hardworking, and optimistic that they can make a difference.

And I have also learned that institutions matter deeply.  Around the globe, people are making common cause through non-governmental organizations – in the environment, human rights, health, education, social services, and all the rest.  The collective power of the human spirit is amplified exponentially through institutions like those you represent. These awards are made in tribute to creative organizations everywhere working for a more humane world at peace.

We are delighted you are here, and we are honored to be your partners. Thank you for coming.

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