2023 was a whirlwind year for McKnight and our partners.
We celebrated landmark legislation and milestone progress toward investment and policy solutions to make Minnesota and beyond a better place for everyone. With other funders and coalition partners, we made an incredible $1 billion down payment on expanding wealth-building opportunities in Minnesota communities through GroundBreak Coalition. We unveiled new approaches to our grantmaking, celebrated leaders in the arts, community, climate, neuroscience, and global foods, and invested $107,998,200 through 688 grants to incredible organizations in Minnesota, the Midwest, and across the globe working to advance a more just, creative, and abundant future.
As we reflect on 2023, we recognize and honor the community members and business owners, the climate scientists, leaders, and activists, the working artists and culture bearers, the researchers and farmers, and the neuroscientists, who show up every day and make our mission possible. You inspire and push us toward a better future where ሁሉም people and our planet will thrive.
Please enjoy these highlights from 2023.
A More Streamlined, Equitable Grantmaking Process
In late 2022, McKnight changed the way we do grantmaking to build stronger, more supportive grantee partnerships. Aligning to this new process, in January 2023, the Arts & Culture እና የምዕራብ ምዕራብ የአየር ንብረት እና ኃይል teams formalized a streamlined approach to grantmaking and an open application process—a move toward simplifying grantmaking while providing more flexibility and transparency for our applicants and partners, allowing partners to focus more on mission over process. These programs now accept applications at any time (in select states for the Climate program), require less written and financial information from applicants, and strive to make grant decisions faster.
Big Win for Climate and Clean Energy
In 2023, Minnesota made a transformational down payment on an equitable clean energy future for all Minnesotans, signing into law in February and June the state’s largest-ever investments in clean energy, environmental justice, and transit, as well as establishing a green bank—making our state a national climate leader. Read McKnight’s statement on the 100% clean energy bill passed in February, and these stories of climate progress and hope on what the legislative advances mean for Minnesotans—and the impact that climate and clean energy advocates hope for in the future.
Building Coalitions for Climate, Clean Energy, and Closing Racial Wealth Gaps
In March, McKnight president Tonya Allen co-authored an op-ed in the Star Tribune about creating a clean energy future in Minnesota. It speaks of a diverse coalition—from labor and business to faith and justice, from utilities and advocates to fired-up youth and those on the front lines—that came together to commit Minnesota to 100% clean electricity by 2040. Doing it the Minnesota Way, these leaders set aside differences to “protect the place we call home against the changing climate and grow our state economy for current and future generations.”
በ ላይ GREATER MSP Partnership‘s 2023 kickoff event in March, Tonya Allen shared #GroundBreakMSP’s aims to make the Minneapolis-St. Paul region a national leader on closing racial wealth gaps. To make it happen, Tonya says, “we need everyone in the fold: individual leaders passionate enough to change, and institutional prowess willing to make sure our region continues to be prosperous, and that we continue to be in the forefront of this country.”
Additionally in March, we celebrated the Environmental Initiative’s awards for people and projects working in partnership at the nexus of a healthy environment, a prosperous economy, and an equitable society.
Convening National Leaders to Strengthen our Learning
As the McKnight Foundation works to create a more just, creative, and abundant future where people and planet thrive, we recognize that we cannot meet this moment and advance our mission alone, nor strictly from within our Foundation walls. Starting this year, we have strengthened our community of learning by convening two new program advisory panels for our Midwest Climate & Energy and Vibrant & Equitable Communities programs. These panels include a diverse roster of individuals who bring expertise, contributions, and lived experiences across a variety of fields including journalism, the military, philanthropy, academia, government, business, technology, architecture, finance, law, and other fields.
Connecting with Minnesota’s Changing Communities
In the spring, McKnight’s Vibrant & Equitable Communities (Communities) team traveled to St. Cloud with our board of directors to better understand how we can support the work of building shared prosperity for all Minnesotans. We shared space and participated in courageous conversations with St. Cloud community leaders, including Abdulahi Farah, a lead organizer with ISAIAH Minnesota, a grantee partner of our Communities program, who reminded us: “Real change takes organized people and organized money. Abundant communities create belonging. We need to organize the people and the infrastructure to help do that.” That infrastructure, he continued, requires intentional bridging across differences and targeted investments in power-building organizations that focus on relational organizing and advocacy to advance an inclusive, equitable future for all Minnesotans—especially those who have historically been excluded from our state’s rich social fabric and economic prosperity.
Expanding our Program Goals for More Impact
This month, we celebrated as our Midwest Climate & Energy program released its new program goals and hosted a public webinar with 214 grantees, funding peers, and community members registered. Additionally, the Global Collaboration for Resilient Food Systems publicly announced its new program name and goals. As Jane Maland Cady, program director, shared at the time, “McKnight and its funding partners are in a position to achieve great influence to transform local, regional, and global food systems.”
Historic Wins in Minnesota for Housing, Democracy, and Economic Equity
Minnesota’s 2023 legislative session concluded on May 22, 2023, enacting historic progress on housing, democracy, and economic equity that will advance a just, abundant future. Across the 74 bills lawmakers passed, a key throughline surfaced consistently: investments and policy solutions to make Minnesota a better place for ሁሉም ሰው. McKnight Foundation leaders issued these statements in response.
“Minnesota has shown the country what is possible when you invest in the hopes and aspirations of all people who call our state home. As we look ahead, we must continue to bridge divides and work together toward a future where all Minnesotans share in our state’s full abundance.”
– TONYA ALLEN, PRESIDENT
Standing Up for Fair Admissions
In June, the Supreme Court made a ruling that could greatly impact the ability of colleges and universities to select their own student bodies and address persistent racial inequities. In response, McKnight and 45 peer funders and philanthropic organizations issued a statement on the SCOTUS ruling.
According to the statement: “Our nation’s future prosperity, vitality, and unity depend upon America becoming a true multiracial democracy—an aspiration that requires racial equity and diversity in higher education. Despite today’s ruling, our foundations will not waver in our commitment to those making the nation’s high ideals a reality for all communities and all people.”
Honoring Neuroscience Scholars
የ McKnight Endowment Fund ለሬዮነቲስ announced ten neuroscientists to receive the 2023 McKnight Scholar Award. These awards go to young scientists in the early stages of establishing independent laboratories and research careers and who have a demonstrated commitment to neuroscience. This was the first year McKnight made these awards under the program’s new guidelines, which place additional emphasis on increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion to enhance the excellence and impact of our work.
Gaining Proximity with Global Partners
A group of our board members and staff headed to Peru in early June, visiting both Lima, the capital and largest city, and Huancayo in the central highlands. This was an incredible opportunity for us to appreciate the role that smallholder farmers play in stewarding an incredible crop diversity that is the basis for Peru’s rich culinary tradition; better understand how McKnight’s throughlines of bold climate solutions and equity show up in research projects involving Andean smallholder farmers; and witness innovations to the multiple challenges faced by Andean farmers.
Impact Investing for a Better Future
McKnight president Tonya Allen joined Don Chen, president of the Surdna Foundation, as co-chair of the Presidents’ Council on Impact Investing, which comprises the heads of 20 U.S. foundations with more than $80 billion in combined assets and a shared commitment to practicing and promoting impact investing to create a better future. Additionally, Forbes published this article about our impact investment with Chicago TREND, along with the MacArthur, Kresge, Surdna, and Pritzker Traubert Foundations, for a combined $10 million.
Advancing Cures for Brain Disorders
In late July, the McKnight Endowment Fund for Neuroscience announced the 2023 Neurobiology of Brain Disorders Awardees. Their work could lead to treatments for ALS, epilepsy, obesity, and brain cancer. You can also read about McKnight scholar Daniel Dombeck’s surprise discovery linking dopamine to Parkinson’s disorder.
Maximizing the Midwest Climate Opportunity
McKnight’s board and staff visited Ohio to learn and better understand the work in Ohio, an important geography in McKnight’s climate strategy across the Midwest—and to meet our partners, who are working strategically, passionately, and tirelessly across the region. This visit amplified the power of proximity, where together, we identified the value of McKnight’s role in maximizing the Midwest climate opportunity alongside our partners across the region. At this meeting, McKnight’s board committed to more deeply investing in reducing racial wealth gaps through the GroundBreak Coalition.
New Leadership for McKnight Endowment Fund for Neuroscience
After 15 years of service to McKnight, longtime program manager Eileen Maler retired in August from her role as manager of the McKnight Endowment Fund for Neuroscience. McKnight promoted Joel Krogstad to lead in this role, working closely with the neuroscience research community to bring science closer to the day when diseases of the brain and behavior can be accurately diagnosed, prevented, and treated. The Endowment Fund administers the McKnight Scholar Awards for exceptional young scientists early in their career, and the McKnight Neurobiology of Brain Disorders Awards, supporting research scientists studying human brain disorders.
Announcing our 2023 Distinguished Artist Award
In September, we were thrilled to publicly announce Dipankar Mukherjee as our 2023 Distinguished Artist awardee. A driving force in the theater field, Mukherjee has earned a reputation as a director committed to social justice, equity, and de-colonized practices in theater-making. Since co-founding Pangea World Theater in 1995, he has embraced the stories of many cultures, building bridges and inspiring artists and community members to address urgent social concerns through art.
Hosting our Global Foods Partners
In September, for the first time in 10 years, McKnight hosted the Global Collaboration for Resilient Food Systems leadership team in Minnesota. It was a week of connecting with one another, bringing passionate experts from the regions around the world where we work—in Africa and the Andes—to Minnesota and the Midwest. We used this time together to dream big and dig in, planning for the many ways we can cultivate resilient food systems globally by bridging farmer-centered agroecological research, action, and influence.
A Road Show to Visit our Regional Partners
In late summer, McKnight president Tonya Allen and staff members road-tripped across Southeast Minnesota to visit local partners and community members. We were inspired by the courageous characters and changemakers we met on our journey and were pleased to be joined by Tim Penny from the የደቡብ ሚኔሶታ ኘሮግራም ፋውንዴሽን. This is the first of what we hope to be many road trips to connect with regional leaders and partners to inform our thinking on issues and solutions facing Minnesota’s diverse communities across the state.
Launching the Press Forward Initiative
McKnight joined the MacArthur Foundation and other grantmakers that are seeking to collectively invest more than $500 million over the next five years in Press Forward, a national initiative by a coalition of foundations to inform and engage communities by bolstering local news. McKnight is leading the Press Forward Minnesota effort, and is proud to help strengthen our state’s infrastructure of local news as a pillar of a healthy, civically engaged democracy.
Celebrating Courageous Characters
Minnesota is on the path to creating a more just, creative, and abundant future where people and planet thrive. Getting there will take courage and deep cooperation—across sectors, across geography, and across differences. Throughout our state, bold leaders are bringing people together to make more possible with and for their communities. McKnight launched its Courageous Characters series, recognizing Pastor James Alberts who taught us, “You bridge a gap by approaching it, not by ignoring it. We don’t avoid conflict. It’s uncomfortable, undesirable at times. But it’s also the greatest opportunity to learn the truth.”
Mobilizing Wealth-Building Opportunities
On October 31, GroundBreak Coalition announced an early collective financial commitment of nearly $1 billion to expand wealth building opportunities, with a current focus on aspiring Black homeowners, entrepreneurs, and commercial developers. The news was shared with nearly 200 community members including nonprofit, philanthropic, public, and private sector leaders at Sabathani Community Center in Minneapolis. Read more in this article from MPR እና this one in the Star Tribune.
Michigan Commits to a Clean Energy Future
On November 28, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a law that commits Michigan utilities to provide their customers with 100 percent clean electricity by 2040. In doing so, Michigan joined Minnesota እና Illinois, which recently enacted 100 percent carbon-free laws. McKnight issued a statement in support of the new law, stating that it “further solidifies the Midwest as the heartland of clean energy solutions.” Additionally, Ann Arbor, MI committed to being carbon neutral by 2030, and they started their work in the frontline Bryant neighborhood. They’re electrifying homes community-wide, reducing energy burden and increasing health while showing Michigan, the Midwest, and the nation how to scale equitable climate action.
Transforming our Global Food Systems
McKnight joined other funders in calling for efforts to transform global food systems at COP28. Our partners at the Global Alliance for the Future of Food are shining a bright light on the intertwined relationship between fossil fuels and our current food systems, and the FAO’s State of Food and Agriculture 2023 report found that our current agrifood systems impose huge hidden costs on our health, the environment, and society, equivalent to at least $10 trillion a year. Read more in this article.
Recognizing Unsung Heroes in Minnesota
The Virginia McKnight Binger Unsung Hero awards are given to individuals who have had a significant impact on the state of Minnesota and its communities but who have not been widely recognized for their work in the past. Each recipient has given time and effort to help others with no expectation of material reward, and each exemplifies the life-changing difference one person can make through service. Meet the heroes.
Welcoming New Board and Investment Committee Members
McKnight is delighted to announce that distinguished journalist and media leader Duchesne Drew joined our board of directors, with a term starting in January 2024. We honored our longtime community board leaders Phyllis Goff and Roger Sit, who transitioned from McKnight’s board as their nearly decade-long terms end. McKnight additionally welcomed two new investment committee members, Roy Swan and Michael Barry, and honored our longtime outgoing members Bob Struyk and David Crosby for their expertise and joyful efforts on behalf of McKnight’s endowment.
McKnight Announces New Minneapolis Office Location
In December, McKnight announced that we will soon have a new home that will allow us to powerfully move our mission forward through our physical space in the decades ahead. According to McKnight president Tonya Allen, “McKnight works to advance its mission in many distinct and powerful ways, and our office is a big part of how we make that happen. We are thrilled to make this mission-focused move for our future that will allow us to stay grounded in downtown Minneapolis and create a place for connection and collaboration with community partners, while also bringing our climate and energy goals to life through our physical space.”
“McKnight works to advance its mission in many distinct and powerful ways, and our office is a big part of how we make that happen. We are thrilled to make this mission-focused move for our future that will allow us to stay grounded in downtown Minneapolis and create a place for connection and collaboration with community partners, while also bringing our climate and energy goals to life through our physical space.”– TONYA ALLEN, PRESIDENT
Stepping into 2024 with Purpose and Alignment
While 2023 brought much to celebrate, we have our eyes on the work, challenges, and opportunities ahead. We’re committed to building on this progress and closely cooperating with partners across sectors, geographies, and disciplines to guide our way forward.
Together with you, we carry the wins and bright spots into 2024 with purpose and alignment for the many ways we can continue to make progress together—for our communities and our democracy, for people and the planet.