April 28, 2009

MacArthur Foundation Awards Prizes to 'Creative and Effective' Small Charities Around the World

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has awarded prizes of up to $650,000 apiece to small charities that it says are taking creative and effective approaches to tackling critical social issues.

Among this year’s eight winners — three from the United States and five from abroad — are nonprofit organizations working to revamp the Nigerian legal system, analyze and curb greenhouse-gas emissions in America’s big cities, and provide social services for low-income, self-employed women in India.

This is the fourth set of organizations to receive the prize, which was created in 2006 to complement the foundation’s “genius” awards, which honor the contributions of individuals in many fields.

‘Small’ and ‘Nimble’

As is the case with the genius awards, the foundation does not accept applications for the Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.

But while the awards to individuals are suggested by outside experts, the foundation asks its own program officers to nominate potential winners of its prize for small charities.

The only stipulations are that the nominated organizations have previously received a MacArthur grant and that they have a budget of $5-million or less — a figure that was increased this year from a ceiling of $2.5-million.

All told, the MacArthur foundation will award $3.9-million this year to the prize winners, up from 2008’s purse of $2.4-million.

Winning groups with operating budgets of $1-million or less receive $350,000, those with operating budgets between $1- and $2.5-million receive $500,000, and those with operating budgets between $2.5-million and $5-million receive $650,000.

“It’s often the small, young, nimble organization that has the greatest value,” says Jonathan Fanton, the president of MacArthur.

Technology and Training

The eight groups will use their awards for a range of purposes, including creating training and research facilities, upgrading technology, and expanding programs.

For example, Access to Justice, in Lagos, Nigeria, fights to end retaliatory killings, police brutality, and torture in jails in that country, as well as to bring perpetrators to justice. It will use its $350,000 award to open a public-interest law center that will carry out research, train lawyers, and pursue public-interest lawsuits across Nigeria.

In another instance, the Chicago Community Loan Fund plans to use its $500,000 award to expand its lending in low-income neighborhoods and to advance its efforts to incorporate sustainable-building technologies into community-development projects.

Along with Access to Justice and the Chicago Community Loan Fund, the other winners are: the Caribbean Natural Resource Institute, in Trinidad; the Center for Neighborhood Technology, in Chicago; the Centre for Independent Social Research, in Russia; the Mahila SEWA Trust, which advocates for women’s self-sufficiency in India; the National Housing Conference and Center for Housing Policy, in Washington; and Women of the Don Region, a human-rights group, in Russia.