When we look at the challenges facing the United States, we often must take the long view. What can we do to move 40 million Americans into the middle class? Put 11.5 million immigrants on a pathway to citizenship? Reverse the climate change that is putting the earth at risk? We know we need time to solve big problems, and we need patient capital that doesn’t expect immediate results. After all, it took us 44 years to extend the promise of health insurance from seniors to all Americans.
But we have also seen seemingly insurmountable problems beaten back by great ideas. Small steps that are really giant leaps are a part of the American story; a story we are inspired to remember on the heels of celebrating a declaration that changed how people thought about their relationship to those who ruled over them.
It is also a contemporary story. Increasingly, people are aware that one of Steve Jobs’ innovations at Apple was the creation of a virtually autonomous department within the company that was charged with creating the very tools, systems, capacities that would make Apple’s standard way of operating obsolete. This is an insight we in philanthropy would benefit from adapting. Can we be committed to one approach to making change and also invest in the very ideas that will lead us to entirely new approaches? If we seek to do our part in helping America live up to its declaration, its promise, I believe we must.
So some innovations can accelerate solutions, allow us to see breakthroughs where we had seen only obstacles. Do you know how many amazing things have been accomplished in just one year? More than you might think.
The Empire State Building was built in a year. The Montgomery Bus Boycott succeeded in one year. The first Apple personal computer: one year. Each, in its own way, was revolutionary. And while none solved a problem by itself, all made possible what was to follow.
We began to explore this impressive list when we were considering creating a Fellowship program here at The Nathan Cummings Foundation. The idea was a response to feedback from grantees. Breakthrough ideas were out there, they told us. The hard part was finding the time and space to develop them.
We have long taken pride in our support for innovation and for our patient capital. But clearly we were missing something important.
Organizations can do a lot if they are supported when they take risks. Yet they are also limited by various institutional prerogatives. We needed to supplement our grantmaking with something else.
After a great deal of reflection and debate, we had our answer. The Nathan Cummings Fellowship will award three visionaries $100,000 each for one year and the space to turn an inspired idea into a game-changing reality. Successful applicants will be proven risk-takers who are ready to build on the Foundation’s strengths, question our assumptions, and be open to new approaches. The proposed projects must demonstrate exceptional vision and relate to our mission, strategy, and core program areas.
All of us know someone who could benefit from this opportunity. I hope you will connect them to us. Share this video or send them to our website.
I’m excited to see who we find and what they can accomplish with our support. Thank you for helping to make this new fellowship a success.