“Focus on the Future” Highlights 100 Years of Accomplishment and Partnership at Carnegie Corporation

Documentary film captures genius of Andrew Carnegie’s idea for a foundation designed to change over time.

Considered by many to be the father of American philanthropy, Andrew Carnegie spent much of his adult life amassing a huge fortune in the steel industry.  Carnegie then devoted his attentions to developing what is now known as “strategic philanthropy” — the planned, organized, deliberately constructed means to attain stated ends.

“Focus on the Future,” a short documentary film premiering this week, provides new insight into Andrew Carnegie’s vision for Carnegie Corporation of New York, one of the most enduring and iconic organizations in philanthropy and the largest institution established by the Scottish immigrant.  Created to promote international peace and to advance education and knowledge, primary concerns to which Mr. Carnegie devoted his philanthropy, Carnegie Corporation’s 100-year history is highlighted in the film through archival images and a series of new interviews.

Andrew Carnegie believed that it was no longer sufficient to support a socially desirable project alone, a transaction he referred to as charity.  Instead, Mr. Carnegie wanted his philanthropic dollars to produce new knowledge and concrete results.  Under this new philosophy, grantmaking intended as an investment that would bring about lasting, long-term results.

Others before him had made substantial charitable contributions, but Carnegie was the first to state publicly the bold notion that the rich have a moral obligation to give away their fortunes.

Touching on Carnegie Corporation-supported work from backing organizations that fueled the civil rights and women’s movements in the U.S. and the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa; to the founding in 1948 of the Russian Research Center at Harvard to create new knowledge to guide senior policymakers during the Cold War, the documentary is also a look at some of the 20th century’s most important advancements in international affairs and education.

In the documentary, Tom Kean, Chairman of Carnegie Corporation’s Board of Trustees and a former Governor of New Jersey, commenting on the foundation’s work to prepare all American students for post-secondary education, says, “It used to be that an education had to go to about tenth grade.  Then it became an education that went through high school. Now it's an education that's has got to include at least some college if somebody's going to lead a productive life, make a decent income, and understand what this democracy is all about.”

Commenting on Andrew Carnegie’s deeply held conviction that democracy and public education, as well as knowledge and its diffusion, were fundamental tools for strengthening the bonds of our society, Helene L. Kaplan, trustee emeritus, said, “He felt passionately about the ability to make this country a better place and I think that he reflected that in action, he wanted to give back.  And he certainly did.”  Kaplan, of counsel to the firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, was the first woman to serve as chair of Carnegie Corporation – or any major non-family private foundation.

One of the Corporation’s best known legacies, an investment in a public television program in the 1960s, is described in the documentary by Joan Ganz Cooney: “Sesame Workshop would not exist without Carnegie Corporation.  We raised eight million dollars which would be like raising 40 or 50 million today.  It was considered astonishing that that much money would be spent on a children's show but Carnegie is 100% responsible for existence of Sesame Street.” 

“Focus on the Future” also offers viewers a glimpse at some of the contemporary challenges the Corporation is now addressing, including its support of higher education in Africa as the most effective to help develop the continent’s leadership and to inspire leaders and scholars who can take control of the continent’s destiny.

Vartan Gregorian, Carnegie Corporation’s President and an authority on Andrew Carnegie, distills the great philanthropist’s philosophy: “He believed that progress was unending.  And progress begets progress.  And challenges are always going to be there.  So, you have to rise to the occasion.  Education is the tool.  Humanity is the end.”

The documentary was produced by Freddie Dorn, of Picture This Video, and narrated by Charlie Gibson.