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Rockefeller charity marks century of aid

| Sunday, May 12, 2013, 5:15 p.m.

NEW YORK — For the richest American family of its era, the goal was fittingly ambitious: “To promote the well-being of mankind throughout the world.”

With that mission, underwritten by the vast wealth of John D. Rockefeller Sr., The Rockefeller Foundation was chartered 100 years ago in Albany, N.Y. For several decades, it was the dominant foundation in the country, breaking precedent with its global outlook and helping pioneer a diligent, scientific approach to charity.

It earned the abiding gratitude of many beneficiaries, inspired imitators and — because of its power and influence — became a periodic target of criticism from both right and left.

“They were in a very small group of foundations that practiced idea-based philanthropy as opposed to just charity. They are willing to invest in ideas,” said Bradford Smith, who as president of the New York-based Foundation Center oversees research on philanthropy worldwide.

The next generation of philanthropists would be wise to study the history of The Rockefeller Foundation and its handful of peers, Smith said.

“The new money goes about this as if there wasn't any history,” he said. “I think there is a lot to learn — what worked, what didn't work.”

Now dwarfed by the largesse of Bill Gates and other contemporary philanthropists, The Rockefeller Foundation remains ambitious and well-funded and is increasingly eager to work in partnerships.

Those financial realities have prompted Rockefeller to do most of its work in partnerships rather than operating solo. Partners have included the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which Judith Rodin, The Rockefeller Foundation's president since 2005, considers a positive influence on the entire foundation sector.

“It's forced us to be even more strategic than if we didn't have it,” she said.

It is celebrating its centennial by touting an array of forward-looking projects, ranging from global disease surveillance to stronger cities to future calamities.

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