1980s: Global Interdependence

Following a general sense of disillusionment in the 1970s, the United States in the 1980s witnessed a social, economic, and political turn to the right. The election of Ronald Reagan ushered in an era of populist, conservative rhetoric along with economic deregulation, federal spending cuts, and a heightened Cold War brinksmanship. Tax policies favorable to corporations characterized Reagan’s “trickle-down” economics, and the stock market boomed for much of the decade. For many educated middle-class and wealthy Americans, the 1980s were a time of renewed confidence and prosperity. But as the budgets for many federally sponsored social programs were reduced or eliminated, the nonprofit sector struggled to meet public needs.

On the home front, American farmers faced their worst crisis since the 1930s. AIDS emerged in the 1980s, quickly escalating into a national and global health epidemic. The international community evidenced growing opposition to apartheid in South Africa, and struggled with diplomacy and sanctions. The nuclear arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union intensified, as did U.S. military aid to anticommunist insurgencies, particularly in Latin America.

The work of RBF during this time reflected and responded to these domestic and global developments. Having weathered its own storm of internal conflict and financial diminishment during the 1970s, the Fund had emerged intact, positioned to redefine its priorities and its institutional identity. Its staff was intensely involved in cultivating fields of activity through advising, networking, and service on the boards of organizations the Fund supported. In 1983, the Fund introduced the One World program, which recognized the increasingly interdependent and volatile global scene. One World eliminated older programs and reshaped the Fund’s grantmaking toward combating trends that threatened natural resources, peace, international cooperation, and trade and economic growth.

Under the new rubric, and in light of these changes, the Fund launched a major initiative to protect American farmland; fostered agricultural reform in Poland and ecologically sustainable development in Eastern Europe, which was seen as a “transmission belt” for ideas between east and west; began to help South Africa prepare for post-apartheid democracy; funded research and policy work in nuclear non-proliferation; and continued the RBF’s commitment to the nonprofit sector and to New York City, where it worked on the social toll of AIDS, affordable housing, sustainable urban development, and public education.