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. They also prompted the Fund’s sharpening of its commitments to, and rhetorical clarity on, democratic processes and the importance of civil society. The RBF had begun some grantmaking in Central and Eastern Europe in the 1980s, and the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall was a culmination of years of struggle, opening the door for the Fund to increase its engagement. Throughout the 1990s, the RBF continued its work fostering civil society in the U.S. as well, especially in New York City.

Work begun in the 1980s under the One World program evolved in the 1990s. The Fund’s recognition of global interdependence was longstanding; but, in the 1990s, it began to recognize that world security, which had once seemed fundamental, demanded rethinking and redefinition. By the end of the decade, the Fund had conducted its own Project on World Security and, subsequently, the RBF Global Interdependence Initiative. The titles of these programs telegraph the Fund’s changing conceptual framework in international relations.

Underscoring global realities on the environmental front, the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro produced the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, affirming certain principles that informed RBF program emphases, namely sustainable economic development and the preservation of biodiversity. The 1997 Kyoto Protocol purportedly followed through on the 1992 meeting, but is widely criticized for shortchanging emissions mandates addressing climate change. The U.S. refusal to sign onto the protocol later prompted the RBF to undertake new strategies in its environmental work in the 2000s.

Internally, two events marked significant expansions for the Fund. First, The Pocantico Conference Center opened in 1994, and is a venue that enabled the RBF to further its program objectives as well as to realize an enduring and beneficial use for the Rockefeller family estate after an almost 20-year planning process. Second, the RBF merged with the Charles E. Culpeper Foundation in 1999, and this infused the Fund with new financial resources, programs, trustees, and staff.