The MacArthur Foundation, making the world a better place to live

In Chicago, people can find many different types of charities. There are some dedicated to taking care of those living under vulnerable circumstances. Others work for animal conservation and pets. A few are dedicated to reducing homelessness and fight child abuse. Yosef Meystel knows that there is probably one foundation that works for everyone, almost everywhere and has a clear mission of reducing all sorts of pressing issues in order to contribute to the creation of a better world for everyone. This is the MacArthur Foundation.


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Headquartered in Chicago and with more than 152 staff members in the United States and 27 abroad, the MacArthur Foundation introduces itself as one of the biggest foundations in the United States. Having given away grant for over $6 billion dollars since it opened and working in about 50 countries, this foundation is central to the philanthropic development of the wind city and the country in general.

A bit of history

John MacArthur was a banker that had amassed a considerable fortune that included the companies Bankers Life and Casualty insurance. With his wife Catherine T. MacArthur, this fortune continued to grow over the years, adding some real estate properties in New York City, Florida and Chicago to it and allowing them to contribute to some philanthropic causes in Chicago and Palm Beach.

It was October 1970, when William T. Kirby convinced John MacArthur that starting a foundation was a good way for him to continue to give a good use to his money one he was gone. This is how John MacArthur decided to give his fortune away and sign all the required documents to start a nonprofit in Illinois.

At first, he didn’t know what to do or what kind of cause to support. This is how he left the responsibility of making such an important decision to the first board members. John MacArthur stated that he had made all that money that now it was time for them to decide what to do with it in order to help others. The board was then left with two challenges: 1. How to responsibly use the assets and 2. How to support organizations that could actually have a positive impact on the change of the most pressing issues affecting our continuously evolving society.

In 1978, after John MacArthur died, the foundation gave its two first grants of $50,000 each to support the California League of Cities and the Amnesty International. Since that day, the MacArthur Foundation has given away grants for over $6 billion total for organizations in the United States and 50 other countries.

Fighting Over-incarceration


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One of the most significant initiatives of the MacArthur Foundation is the Safety and Justice Challenge. This intends to change the way Americans think about jails and the way they should be used. Nowadays, there are 20 times more local jail admissions than prison admissions. 75 percent of this admissions include individuals that were sentenced to go to jail for crimes that don’t actually represent a risk to others, such as traffic offenses or public order violations. Also, 60 percent of the individuals admitted to jail are legally presumed innocent and area awaiting trial or are simply too poor to pay for bail.

As all these numbers start to look awful from anyone’s perspective, the MacArthur Foundation started to question the current system and came to the conclusion that it is vital to have a fairer system that could ensure that those going to jail are actually the ones that represent a real risk to others and to society. It is simple math if there were fewer individuals populating jails, billions of dollars coming from taxpayers would be used to meet other needs related to the healthcare system, education, workforce development, among others.

The MacArthur Foundation aims to reduce the over-reliance on the justice system through the Safety and Justice Challenge. This means that the foundation is working hard to engage the community in a long-term strategy that will reduce the local demand for justice. Instead, it will open spaces for communication, research, and experimentation necessary to generate awareness towards those social issues that are generating the false idea of needing individuals to go to jail because of unfair causes.

What else is there for the MacArthur Foundation?

The foundation also supports programs related to global climate change and nuclear risk. It is responsible for placing big bets on causes that can make the world a better place to live and coexist with others who are living in different circumstances than we are. The bottom line is always finding a way to make this world a more peaceful place by creating a network of individuals who care.

Through programs like the MacArthur Fellows Program, the foundation is committed to respecting democracy and empower journalism as vital elements for the continuous growth and improvement of the city of Chicago.