2019 Annual Review: Introduction

  • John D. Rockefeller’s 1908 Orangerie, which will be transformed into the David Rockefeller Creative Arts Center to open in 2021. Photo by Fred Charles.
  • The RBF board of trustees with leaders from Color of Change, Blackbird, and Black Futures Lab in Montgomery, AL. Photo by Sarah Edkins Lien.

We embarked on 2019 knowing that the year ahead would mark the end of a decade. None of us could have imagined that 2019 would also mark the end of an era of life as we knew it in the United States and around the world. In my 19 years at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, never before has the present tense in which I write this introduction to the Annual Review seemed so epochally removed from the year on which it reflects.

Though 2019 may seem light-years away, the journey of reflection is worthwhile. It was a remarkable year at the RBF that brought to fruition long-term projects, initiatives, and plans that will lay the foundation for our continued efforts and evolution over the next decade and into the new era that has already begun.

Major Milestones

On September 22, 2019, the Rockefeller Brothers celebrated five years since we pledged to divest from fossil fuels. Inspired and supported by grantees like Carbon Tracker and peer foundations like the Wallace Global Fund, we saw in 2014 that it was possible to pursue our mission not only with our grantmaking, but also with the endowment we have invested in capital markets to finance our activities in the future. The global divestment movement was still nascent at the time, and our announcement on the day following the People’s Climate March attracted the attention of major newspapers, investors, and climate advocates around the world.

Five years later, a review of our financial returns shows that our endowment performance has exceeded expectations and beaten the benchmarks we use to measure our investing success. In a featured story that follows, Executive Vice President for Finance and Operations Gerry Watson details our process, our results, and the blossoming fields of fossil fuel divestment and mission-aligned investing we are proud to have helped sow.

Big Changes on the Horizon

In June 2019, we announced plans for the David Rockefeller Creative Arts Center at The Pocantico Center, scheduled to open in 2021. The project will transform the long dormant Orangerie, built by John D. Rockefeller in 1908, into a year-round, all-weather performance and rehearsal space with an art gallery and flexible studio or classroom space for community programs.

It is worth underscoring “all-weather”: The 2019 summer season at The Pocantico Center reinforced why the DR Center will be such a welcome addition to Westchester County’s cultural life. In the rainiest season in recent memory, local audiences braved the elements to dance, laugh, and reflect along with performances on the Kykuit lawn. In the future, our audiences need not accept soaked clothes as the price of great performances, and our arts programming need not be beholden to the meteorological roll of the dice.

The new DR Center will be a net-zero energy building with the goal of achieving LEED certification. A nearby solar panel array will produce more energy than the building consumes, and a rain garden will conserve water and reduce runoff pollutants. With these features, the DR Center will also serve as an educational model of low-carbon development for the more than 30,000 annual visitors to Pocantico.

Looming Challenges

Challenges to democracy loomed large in 2019. The Fund has long recognized and sought to address the deep racial and economic inequities that poison our democratic culture and institutions—racialized gerrymandering, the outsized influence of money in politics, the erosion of voter rights—but in 2019, these concerns took on new weight as organizations around the country prepared for a divisive national election and an at-risk census in the year to come. In October, the RBF board of trustees traveled to the American South to visit with grantees from our Democratic Practice–U.S. portfolio in Virginia, Georgia, and Alabama to learn more about the challenges they face and the innovations they are advancing to overcome them. Time and again during our weeklong trip, we were reminded of the persistent legacies of slavery in our political and governance systems, experienced by Black and Brown Americans every day through the lived reality of racism.

These forces also shaped the internal organizational culture process taking place at the RBF throughout the year. This intentional, painstaking work has forced each of us at the Fund to consider how race, gender, and power manifest in our lives and in our actions, and to examine structures and norms of our institution that contribute to inequity. With the support of oneTILT, a Washington, D.C.-based consultancy on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), we engaged in difficult conversations, selfreflection, and learning on the long journey to realize our vision of peace, justice, and sustainability within our institution, as well as in the broader world around us. Like so many institutions, we wish we had done more, sooner, but these early steps have energized and invigorated our determination to make the next decade the one in which our country finally overcomes its long history of injustice and delivers on its founding promise.

-Stephen Heintz, President and CEO

2019 RBF Annual Review


Featured Essay: A Broader Vision of Our Assets


The Pocantico Center


Staff & Trustees

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