Knight Foundation President Alberto Ibargüen Addresses Economic Outlook

Reviews Foundation's 2008 Activities



I'm Alberto Ibargüen, and I appreciate this opportunity to talk a bit about our work at Knight Foundation.

As 2008 draws to a close, we’re very proud of the transformational work we’ve done to advance journalism and communities.

Knight Foundation has become a leader in media innovation; meeting the information needs of communities and helping journalism evolve into its best possible future. We are also fortunate to work with many effective organizations for the benefit of Knight communities.

We plan to continue that work in 2009, obviously mindful of the recession that's affecting all of us. The financial crisis has affected every investor in the market, and of course that includes us at Knight Foundation, since our income is derived from our investments of the funds left to us by Jack and Jim Knight.

So, we’re down, too - and, of course, the natural question from grantees is “what are your intentions?”

First, let me repeat what we've discussed with many of you individually: while we have taken our losses, the foundation remains quite strong.

I'm especially pleased to assure you that Knight Foundation will honor all existing pledges and grants. We foresee no liquidity issues for the Foundation.

We've been well served by a long-standing policy of asset diversification, directed by an outstanding Investment Committee and our outside investment manager.

And we expect to be well positioned when the markets recover.

As good managers - and just as we expect of our grantees in these difficult times -we've taken steps to reduce our own expenses, including keeping all salaries flat, not hiring any open positions, and reducing expenses at every opportunity.

As stewards of the Knight brothers’ legacy, we’ll continue to monitor the financial situation closely and respond appropriately.

And as stewards of that same legacy, we will also continue to seek grant-making opportunities and to support ideas that might result in positive, transformational change.

Let me tell you what that means by giving you a few examples from 2008.

I've chosen some that point the way going forward in our general areas of work, in communications and engaging citizens with their communities.

Most notably, we maintained our signature Knight News Challenge, which continues to produce innovation in media. The third round of annual grants is under way and, amazingly, the group of applicants appears even stronger than years past.

Information is a core community need and our initiatives seek to meet that need.

This year, we created a new contest to encourage community foundations to support projects that use media and technology to inform and engage their communities' citizens.

We also opened the Knight Center of Digital Excellence in Akron, which is helping cities extend digital access to every citizen.

Together with the Aspen Institute, we launched a high-level Knight Commission, to explore national information policy.

We became the seed funder of the World Wide Web Foundation, created by the inventor of the World Wide Web, MIT Professor Sir Tim Berners-Lee, to ensure the Web stays free and universal, available to every citizen, everywhere.

Our new Knight Pulse website ties it all together by providing a space to discuss the future of news and information. I’ll welcome you at

In the area of civic engagement, we continue to help transform communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers.

In several of our cities, for example Akron, Detroit and Philadelphia, we have focused on the knowledge economy, to retain and attract talent, and to create new jobs in those communities.

The new BioInnovation Institute in Akron, founded in partnership with universities and medical institutions, capitalizes on that region's strength in biopolymer research. It’ll create not only a first-class research center, but will generate thousands of jobs in the region.

  • In Detroit, we joined other foundations to create the New Economy Initiative, a $100 million effort to accelerate the shift to an innovation-based economy in Southeast Michigan.
  • In Philadelphia, scores of citizens will return to finish college thanks to an initiative we sponsored.
  • In Miami, we made substantial investments to promote arts in that amazingly diverse region. The arts initiative includes three endowments to major institutions and a contest open to the entire community, disbursing millions of dollars for unique ideas that will enrich the already burgeoning arts scene that is redefining the region.

Sometimes funding a project isn't enough, and you have to go to a place, see the place, work in the place.

We've done that in Biloxi, Mississippi , from the week that Hurricane Katrina devastated our community, to just a few months ago, when more than half of the foundation's staff participated in a massive, Habitat for Humanity house-building project that we sponsored.

Finally, in partnership with Gallup Organization, we launched our first of several years’ of surveys, exploring citizens’ -- residents’ -- emotional connections to their communities. The data from this survey has already begun to inform our work in the area of civic engagement, as we learn what actually connects people to place. I invite you to explore the findings at

As you can see, this has been a very busy year at Knight Foundation. A year that has prepared us for the future by opening our minds to new ideas and new ways to work.

If you have any questions about this, any questions at all about Knight Foundation please don't hesitate to contact any of our program officers.

Thank you for sharing a few minutes with me, and thank you for all the work you do to make your community a better place. 

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit