‘Gain all you can, save all you can, and give all you can.’
- John Wesley
It is a fitting maxim for America’s first billionaire and the founder of one of the country’s oldest major philanthropic organizations, the Rockefeller Foundation. Industrialist, robber baron, monopolist or mankind’s greatest benefactor – history has not yet passed its verdict on Standard Oil founder John D. Rockefeller. However, his legacy remains one that has inspired countless others in generations since – not the least of which is a new flock of the wealthy elite who are following his footsteps. ‘Big Business’ is not often a phrase used with kindness, but today’s industry leaders are adopting his generous spirit in providing for the future – and proving that corporate giving and compassion are not mutually exclusive.
Inspired by the writings of Andrew Carnegie, Rockefeller set the wheels in motion for what is today one of the most well-respected and influential private foundations in the world. Founded in 1913 in New York State, the Foundation’s mission was ‘to promote the well-being of mankind throughout the world.’ In the near-century since its inception, more than $14 billion has been awarded to grantees around the world – ushering in extraordinary advances in medical science, education, and public health initiatives.
Judith Rodin and Judy Woodruff on Bloomberg TV
Education was a crucial focus of the Foundation, in support of their belief that every person – regardless of ‘race, sex or creed’ – has the right to a quality education. (Prior to the Foundation, Rockefeller’s General Education Board was instrumental in supporting black schools in the American South – and for providing the funding necessary to establish Spelman College, an institute of higher-learning for African-American women in Atlanta.) Large contributions were also awarded to Harvard, Yale and Johns Hopkins University, which used the funds to form the world’s first School of Hygiene and Public Health.
The Foundation’s support of the American medical research community helped to establish the country as a world leader in the field – but their influence, and financial backing, would also provide support for other countries as well. Over $25 million in grants were used to build public health schools in 21 countries and provide fellowships for scholars to pursue post-doctoral studies at the world’s leading institutions. Furthering their commitment to public health, the Foundation initiated a globe-spanning virus research program in 1950, resulting in significant advancements in treatments and the identification of hundreds of previously-unknown viruses.
For nearly a hundred years, the Foundation has provided vital funding to scholars, researchers, educators, artists, and others – affecting the lives of millions across generations. And while their work continues with the same dedication and focus, there are now others who are heeding the Rockefeller call to service – using their enormous wealth to initiate change on every level. Upon his death, Warren Buffett has pledged the majority of his fortune to charitable organizations. CNN’s Ted Turner gifted $1 billion to the United Nations. And the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, established by the Microsoft founder, has pledged (in partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation) $150 million to fight hunger in Africa through the development of improved agricultural practices. It is an extraordinary legacy, at any price.