You may not have heard of John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur, but you may benefit from their generosity.
At the time of his death in 1978, John D. MacArthur is said to have been one of the three wealthiest men in America. Eight years prior to his death, the MacArthur Foundation was created. Today, MacArthur is one of America’s largest independent foundations with assets of approximately $6.2 billion and annual giving of approximately $250 million.
The history of the foundation is interesting, to say the least. It has been an extraordinary evolution where, by design, an esteemed Board of Directors determines its path. MacArthur has been quoted as having told the board, “I made the money; you guys will have to figure out what to do with it”.
John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur. Images courtesy of The MacArthur Foundation.
100&Change – A Small Number of Big Bets
The description of the purpose of the grant sounds pretty straightforward:
“100&Change is a MacArthur Foundation 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 will consider proposals from any field or problem area.”
The approach employed by 100&Change is to provide funding well above the typical level of a grant. The strategy is to address problems with solutions that are radically different in scale.
Recently, the eight semi-finalists for 2017 were announced from more than 1,900 proposals completed and submitted.
You may already know about one of this year's proposals or at least the institution that gave rise to the proposal. Have you ever been to archive.org?
The site is one of the largest digital libraries in the world. Perhaps you went there to get one of the “millions of free books, movies, software, music, websites, and more”. Regular readers of the All About Circuits Forums have seen references to their rich collections of electronics and computing reference materials, like manuals, computer magazines and electronic project material.
Maybe you went to hear a recording of that Grateful Dead concert you attended back in the 70s or 80s or 90s. Maybe you were looking for some of those old-time radio shows from the 40s. Maybe an article about computer control of the world, in the first issue of Kilobaud, or the manual for that old Simpson 8455 line loop tester. Perhaps you wanted to read what Tesla wrote rather than just read about him, or maybe you just wanted to do some “Cratedigging”
That’s Archive.org and their proposal is one of the eight semi-finalists.
Meet Wendy Hanamura
Wendy Hanamura. Image courtesy of the MacArthur Foundation.
Wendy Hanamura is the Director of Partnerships for the Internet Archive and Project Lead on the proposal. Wendy would like to send all 5th graders to class with four million eBooks under their arms. She sees libraries as great equalizers. In her view, the problem is one of accessibility; limited by the struggle imposed by high costs, eBook restrictions, policy risks, and missing infrastructure.
Her work, along with that of Archive.org, has the promise of actively promoting STEM education to underserved communities.
Free, Long-Term, Public Access to Knowledge
The solution, she believes, involves building upon the model that archive.org has used for the last six years and is exemplified by the Open Library project. The plan is to reduce digitizing costs by as much as 50% and develop what is, essentially, a network of digital libraries.
“The project will curate, digitize, and make available, in digital form, four million books to any library that owns the physical book.”
They will start with the books most widely held and used in libraries and classrooms.
Image courtesy of archive.org.
To make it to the semi-finals, the grants had to survive the scrutiny of a rigorous selection process. As a semi-finalist, each applicant must demonstrate their ability to engage the solution and receives technical assistance from a team of experts who will assess their plan and serve as advisers for the implementation. From this group of eight semi-finalists, an even smaller number of finalists is selected.
The winning selection for the 2017 100&Change grant award will be made in December. You can see from the current list of semi-finalists that they are all very exciting and creative proposals. It could not have been easy for the Internet Archive proposal to have reached the semi-finals and it is certainly a testimonial to hard work and vision.
Change is always easy to see after it has happened but sometimes hard to see while it is happening. Yes, this is indeed a big bet, but I like the odds.
Featured image courtesy of the MacArthur Foundation