November 17, 2020 – Updates

Driving discovery


We believe every person is capable of extraordinary things when given the opportunity to maximize their potential. Each person holds unique aptitudes and talents that enable them to contribute to their communities. Discovering those passions and deploying them for the sake of others leads to a prosperous and fulfilling life, and a thriving society.

This belief in people drives our philanthropy. We invest in social-change entrepreneurs who remove the barriers that prevent people from realizing their potential. Specifically, we support the development of ideas through academic research, and fund new educational opportunities that allow students access to individualized, lifelong learning. This giving is targeted toward dynamic innovators who share a vision for a society based on equal rights, mutual benefit, openness, and self-actualization.

As we look back on a volatile year, we couldn’t be more proud of our partners and all they have accomplished. Their scholarship has driven transformational progress, and their innovation in education has the potential to help millions of unique students discover their aptitudes and make a positive impact.

This year has only confirmed what scholars have told us for decades: that our current systems and models don’t work for all learners. We continue to see an opening to rethink our assumptions about how students learn. The time for tweaking at the margins is over — we may have a once-in-a-generation chance to put students at the center of learning and uncover their unique gifts. As post-secondary education, and K-12, ask big questions, we are proud of our partners who are proposing solutions and demonstrating a way forward. Arizona State University, Western Governors University, Minerva, PeletonU, the mikeroweWORKS Foundation and many others are breaking new ground that, if successful, will enable millions of people to drive their own success, on their own terms.

Education isn’t the whole story. In criminal-justice reform, Barry Friedman’s Policing Project at New York University School of Law has been driving progress no one could have anticipated. Since 2015 the team at NYU has delved into the hard questions of how to improve police-community relations, thereby promoting public safety, equal rights, and human dignity. In the midst of COVID-19, the Policing Project developed a resource to guide police enforcement of social-distancing guidelines. This Fall, the project released new guidance on how to police protests to both protect Constitutional rights and public safety.

Meanwhile, Brandon Garrett at Duke University’s Center for Science and Justice has been faithfully gathering scholars in law, medicine, public policy, and more to identify ways to improve our nation’s criminal-justice system: examining the causes of wrongful convictions, alternatives to pre-trial detention, and the disproportionate consequences of driver’s license suspensions for racial minorities and working-class Americans. This important work has drawn the support of other funders, and the Center, started in 2019, recently received a $5 million naming gift from alumnus Derek Wilson to deepen its efforts.

At a time of global tumult and uncertainty, we’ve also continued our long-term support in foreign policy. The Notre Dame International Security Center, a longtime partner, brought on former U.S. Senator and Secretary of the Navy Jim Webb as its inaugural distinguished fellow. With support from a cadre of donors, the center created the Hans J. Morgenthau Fellowship program, allowing up to 20 pre-doctoral candidates and early-career scholars to reimagine U.S. grand strategy and hone their teaching skills.

Our partners have gone far and beyond research to directly engage their communities. For example, North Dakota State University’s NICE Center rallied its scholars and students to aid the local community upon advent of coronavirus. NICE created a program to help small businesses refocus, stabilize, and build toward long-term recovery. It created a comprehensive list of resources to help residents and small businesses find direct aid. It partnered with the City of Fargo to remind younger residents of the importance of social distancing. It even created an app to help residents trace their contacts and exposure to COVID-19.

As we near 2021, CKF will continue to adapt, change, and innovate. We will listen to our partners, respond to market conditions, and adjust our grantmaking strategy accordingly. And as always, we will seek out more partners who share our vision for a society of mutual benefit, openness, equal rights, and self-actualization.

We are eager to work with creative, talented people to tackle our country’s challenges together. Onward.

The Charles Koch Foundation supports best-in-class academic research on our nation’s toughest challenges and propels transformation in post-secondary education in order to advance a society marked by mutual benefit, equal rights, openness, and self-actualization.