The Rockefeller Foundation: Challenges and Possibilities


John D. Rockefeller founded the Rockefeller Foundation in 1919 with the general aim of promoting the interest and good of humanity. In line with this mission statement, the Rockefeller Foundation has made a tremendous impact on the lives and activities of millions of people throughout the world since its inception.

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Activities of the Rockefeller Foundation

The Rockefeller Foundation is involved in philanthropic activities in the area of humanities, medical health the natural sciences and agriculture. In health, the foundation has had a worldwide presence on many healthy choices that countries in the Third World make. For instance, in Mexico, the Rockefeller Foundation invested in the eradication of hookworm amongst the poor and rural neighborhoods in the country and established a health facility to monitor and contain the spread of the disease (Bolling, 1982, p.2). In Czechoslovakia, the Rockefeller foundation was influential in setting up the country’s early health facilities after the ravages of war (Page, 2001, p.259). The foundation set up the first clinics and health facilities to cater for the population reeling from the effects of war and burdened by infectious and communicable diseases.

In agriculture, The Rockefeller Foundation has been involved in the provision of research funds for foods that enable small-scale farmers and food growers all over the world to have a stable source of food and livelihood. The Foundation created the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) that has been involved in conducting worldwide research on better rice farming methods and technologies (Smith, 2009, p.462). Additionally, in the past fifty years, the Rockefeller Foundation has been involved in the implementation of better rice farming methods in Africa.

Rockefeller Foundation Activities: Areas needing Improvement

Even though the Rockefeller Foundation is one of the most prominent Non-Governmental Organizations around the world, this near omnipresence in the world-stage has sometimes hampered its efforts to improve the interests and good of humanity, as its mission statement suggests. According to Ryan and Scott, the large and unwieldy nature of the Foundation breeds a sense of entitlement in its leadership, leading to a lack of morality – “moral deficits”, in the leadership that is not commensurate with the ideals of an NGO (1995, p.40).

Brown (1976) concurs that the Rockefeller Foundation has oftentimes pursued the imperialist aims of the American elite and government, stating that many of the public health programs undertaken have been a sort of ‘preparing the way’ for the subsequent exploration of financial needs of these health facilities by American pharmaceuticals (p.898). Lastly, the Foundation also suffers from being dragged into the political positions taken by the American government. For Instance, during the Cold War, the Foundation had little presence in Russia (Solomon & Krementsov, 2001, p.266), with then-president of the Rockefeller Foundation, Raymond Fosdick, stating that Russia was the one large territory or country that the foundation did not establish a powerful presence.


In conclusion, the Rockefeller Foundation as an NGO has indeed contributed to the well-being of humanity in the world, as its mission suggests. However, to improve the effectiveness of its activities, it needs to tame a rising hubris amongst its leadership, remove the tag of a promoter of imperialism, and finally disassociate its programs from political stand taken by the American leadership. If the Rockefeller Foundation wants to remain faithful to its mission, America’s involvement should be cut down significantly because this organization is not a political outfit, but a humanitarian one.


Bolling, L. R. (1982). Building On the Rockefeller Foundation. Saturday Evening Post, 254(2), 2.

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Brown, E. (1976). Public Health in Imperialism: Early Rockefeller Programs at Home and Abroad. American Journal of Public Health, 66(9), 897-903.

Page, B. B. (2001). First Steps: The Rockefeller Foundation in Early Czechoslovakia. East European Quarterly, 35(3), 259.

Ryan, L., & Scott, W. G. (1995). Ethics and Organizational Reflection: The Rockefeller Foundation and Postwar “Moral Deficits,” 1942-1954. Academy of Management Review, 20(2), 438-461.

Smith, E. (2009). Imaginaries of Development: The Rockefeller Foundation and Rice Research. Science as Culture, 18(4), 461-482.

Solomon, S., & Krementsov, N. (2001). Giving and Taking across Borders: The Rockefeller Foundation and Russia, 1919–1928. Minerva: A Review of Science, Learning & Policy, 39(3), 265-298.

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