Catholic Relief Services named among 8 MacArthur semifinalists for $100 million grant

Chicago Tribune

Eight semifinalists in the MacArthur Foundation’s $100 million grant challenge were announced Wednesday, with hopes to change the way orphanages work, educate refugee children, provide virtual access to medical specialists and deliver digital access to millions more books.

Those are among the solutions proposed foundation’s competition meant to inspire bold ideas and provide the money to make meaningful change happen.

When 100&Change was announced last June, MacArthur officials said it would be their largest individual grant by a factor of three and a unique prize in the field of philanthropy.

The semifinalists include some well-known organizations, such as the Internet Archive, the Carter Center and the Sesame Workshop. They will be winnowed to as many as five in September, and then the finalists will present their ideas at a live event in December.

Among the semifinalists is Baltimore-based Catholic Relief Services, the global humanitarian arm of the Roman Catholic community in the United States, serves 107 million people in 101 countries around the world. Its proposal seeks to change the way society cares for children in orphanages.

"What we are looking for is nothing short of a paradigm shift in the way society approaches the institutionalization of children," said Sean Callahan, chief Executive officer and president of Catholic Relief Services.

The agency said the project "would reunite children with their families, or place children in family-like settings; transform existing orphanages into family support services; change government policies; and move money now going to orphanages towards helping families and caregivers care for their children."

The agency provides relief in emergency situations and aims to help people in the developing world break the cycle of poverty through community-based, sustainable development initiatives as well as peace-building activities. The organization does its overseas work n partnership with local church agencies, other faith-based partners, NGO’s and local governments.

The aid CRS offers is both short and long-term, including emergency relief in the wake of disasters and civil conflict and longer-term development programming in the areas of agriculture, water, community health, education, HIV/AIDS, micro-finance and peace building.

In fiscal year 2015, CRS responded to emergencies in 46 countries, including in the Middle East, where 1 million people affected by the war in Syria have received help. A food assistance program helped stave off hunger for millions in 2016 when drought struck Ethiopia.

Its operating expenditures were to reach almost $900 million last year, the largest outlay in its history.

Callahan, who took over for Carolyn Woo in January, said he plans to build on what the organization calls three areas of “immense need and particular strength” – emergency response, agriculture and health – and plans to diversify its fundraising strategies.

Over the last two years, CRS’ agriculture programs included training for some 1.2 million staff, partners and farmers, and its health programs supported malaria prevention and treatment to more than 13 million people in 10 countries.

Headquartered in Baltimore, the agency employs about 5,000 people and operates field offices on five continents.

The semi-finalists also include:

HarvestPlus, which would fortify staple crops to eliminate “hidden hunger” in Africa; Himalayan Cataract, which would wipe out preventable blindness in Nepal, Ethiopia, and Ghana; Human Diagnosis Project, which would serve underserved U.S. patients with virtual access to medical specialists; Internet Archive, which would deliver free digital access to 4 million books; Rice University, which would combat infant mortality in Africa Sesame Workshop and International Rescue Committee, which would educate refugee children; and The Carter Center, which would eliminate river blindness in Nigeria.

“These eight ambitious proposals exemplify the passion, range, and creativity of the hundreds of applications,” said MacArthur President Julia Stasch, in a statement. “We hope that the competition inspires individuals and organizations to be bold and think big, because solutions are possible.”

The competition was open to organizations worldwide. From 1,904 proposals submitted, 801 passed administrative review to be evaluated by expert judges on four criteria: meaningfulness, verifiability, durability, and feasibility.

The final selection was made by the directors of the MacArthur Foundation, which designed the process to be transparent at all steps. Further information about the judging and the projects is available at macfound.org.

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