Rockefeller Brothers Fund Timeline

1990s: Changing Geopolitics and Civil Society

The 1990s witnessed the fall of two seemingly entrenched political orders: Communist regimes in the Eastern bloc and apartheid in South Africa. These seismic geopolitical shifts both invited the Fund’s response and reaffirmed its existing involvement in both regions.

Founded in 1990 to reinforce the overall process of democratization, the Hungarian Foundation for Self-Reliance (HFSR) was one of the Fund’s cornerstone grantees in post-Communist Central and Eastern Europe.

In 1990, the German Marshall Fund of the United States and the RBF organized the Environmental Partnership for Central Europe as a means of nurturing community-based environmental activity in Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary through small grants and technical assistance.

After the fall of the Iron Curtain, civic groups emerged across the region, yet few funds were available to start NGOs and organizers had little management experience. In 1990, the RBF formally extended the scope of its Nonprofit Sector program to include Central and Eastern Europe.

After Nelson Mandela’s release from prison in 1990, the RBF began focusing on improving basic education for children and adults in South Africa as a bottom-up approach to development that would enable the people who had been most disadvantaged by apartheid to participate in transforming and building a new society.

In 1990, the Fund decided to focus on teachers as the best means for improving the U.S. educational system. It designed a program to encourage outstanding minority college students to enter graduate teacher education programs.

In 1990, the Fund sharpened its work in nuclear non-proliferation to focus on horizontal non-proliferation, with emphasis on extending the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, due for review in 1995; tightening nuclear export controls in Europe; and controlling surplus plutonium.

In 1991, the RBF entered into a special arrangement with the Asian Cultural Council, housing the organization in the Fund’s offices for several years, engaging in joint fundraising efforts, and making annual grants toward its general support.

Balkan Wars Begin

As part of RBF's response to the AIDS epidemic in New York City, in 1991 the Fund gave grants to the Black Leadership Commission on AIDS and the Latino Commission on AIDS. At the time, 91 percent of children with AIDS and 85 percent of infected women were either black or Latino.

In 1992, Abby M. O’Neill succeeded David Rockefeller, Jr., as chair of the board of trustees, becoming the second chairperson drawn from the “cousins,” or fourth generation, and the first woman to serve in this capacity at the RBF.

Rio Earth Summit

In 1994, the RBF opened its Pocantico Conference Center in the renovated coach barn of the Kykuit estate, formerly the home to four generations of the Rockefeller family, in Westchester County, New York.

End of Apartheid

In 1994, the RBF began encouraging sustainable forest management (SFM) to provide a continuous yield of high-quality forest products while preserving the ecological integrity of healthy, self-perpetuating forests.

In 1994, the RBF made a grant to the Public Education Association to support a parent organizing and training effort in East New York, seeking to foster increased civic responsibility for school improvement in New York City.

Beginning in 1995, the RBF and the Pew Charitable Trusts collaborated on reforming U.S. fishery management in response to the overfishing of almost every monitored species in U.S. waters.

The National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA had been a longtime RBF grantee, with almost $1 million in grants since 1951. In 1995, the National Council launched a project it described as a “civic space” to encourage citizen participation in New York City issues.

In 1998, the Fund supported a region-wide initiative to improve the nearly 600 miles of New York-New Jersey waterfront and the possibilities for restoration, redevelopment, and public access.

In 1999, the RBF completed a formal merger with the Charles E. Culpeper Foundation, a Connecticut-based foundation. The merger, in which the RBF became the “surviving corporation,” brought to the Fund new trustees, program staff, and financial resources.