Impact and the Role of Philanthropy

By Laura Landy

What is the role and responsibility of philanthropy? This question occupied the early founders of the Rippel Foundation, and particularly its first president Julius A. Rippel. Beginning in 1953, he focused on setting a lasting direction for the Foundation—and he has succeeded.

He advised his fellow Foundation trustees that the role of philanthropy was to take well-conceived risks, not to replicate what government or the private sector might do. Free from depending on short-term returns or the influences of politics that drive policy, he argued that philanthropy could invest in promising ideas in an unfettered way. He advised his Board to seed and support efforts with the potential for significant impact and not to be afraid to tackle tough, even intractable issues.  In 1969, he challenged us when he wrote, “We must have substantially new manners of thinking to enable [humankind] to bridge the gap between the things that have been and the things which will be.”

Over the years, the Rippel Foundation has been true to this philosophy. In 1971, Rippel funded a study by the Institute of Medicine to explore redesign of our health care system—even then identified as unsustainable. We were early investors in the exploration of cancer cures from natural sources in the rainforests and under the ocean. We seeded early explorations of the relationship between beliefs and healing (the placebo effect) and of alternative approaches to medicine. And we were among the first health foundations to move upstream, understanding the link between domestic violence and health.

With the creation of ReThink Health in 2007, Rippel has institutionalized Julius A.’s commitment to seeding innovations and “substantially new manners of thinking” as the most effective ways to accomplish our mission. We have recognized that meaningful change does not come in three-year funding cycles, but in extended commitments to learning, testing, and spreading. We have also embraced the power of partnerships as a way to accomplish even more.

In the will of Julius S. Rippel, the Foundation was established to exist in perpetuity. To remain effective requires focus, diligence, objectivity—and resiliency. Philanthropy must play a leading role in addressing our many social challenges and we need to constantly search for ways to improve our impact. The Rippel Foundation is proud of what it’s accomplished in the past 60 years and is committed to even greater impact over the next 60.