When an organization is described as a “foundation,” most people imagine the large, well-established groups in this country like the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations whose capital originally came from historically wealthy entrepreneurs and business leaders. And while this holds true for some of the newer large foundations (the Gates Foundation being the primary example), many foundations and funds do not come from such dramatic beginnings, nor are they sustained in such a manner. All the same, their philanthropic efforts have a profound effect on the individuals and organizations they support. I would argue that the impact is greater because the connection between the grantor and the grantee is that much more personal. For those working to rid the world of nuclear and chemical weapons, the Ploughshares Fund is a case in point.

While the Fund was started from the wealth and vision of Sally Lilienthal, its continuation is based on contributions from individuals and other foundations. According to its website, the Ploughshares Fund is a “venture funder…specializ[ing] in giving start-up funding to promising new endeavors, and then helping to leverage more substantial support from other sources.” This entrepreneurial spirit means that the Fund values the inspired vision of individual activists. I first became familiar with Ploughshares as the Russia Program Manager for ISAR. The Fund played an important role in supporting ISAR’s work with anti-nuclear and nuclear safety groups in Russia. In all of my discussions and correspondence with Ploughshares staff, they wanted to understand how the Fund’s grants were effecting change and who specifically was involved in that change. For Ploughshares, the individual impact is one the most important ways in which the Fund assesses its success.

I was reminded of this when I read the Fund’s 2006 Annual Report. It celebrates the 25 year history of the Ploughshares Fund by highlighting ten “Ploughshares Heroes.” Each person profiled has made a significant contribution to making the world a safer and better place to live. The fact that these stories serve as the framework for the annual report, demonstrates the Fund’s commitment to change through targeted actions.  The heroic examples also illustrate the success of the Fund’s “venture philanthropy.”

While I understand the important role that large, well-endowed foundations play, I think the individualized approach of foundations like the Ploughshares Fund is just as critical in addressing the world’s biggest challenges.   I applaud the Fund’s efforts and congratulate the ten Heroes.