In a Nutshell: Philanthropists Laura and John Arnold are not afraid to delve into systemic and murky challenges. Whether it’s bringing a new lens to the criminal justice system, education, or public finance, the couple believes in applying a critical investigative lens and entrepreneurial spirit to tackling some of society’s largest systemic challenges. The Arnolds do this work through the Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF) based in Houston, Texas.
For example, “pension reform has typically been an issue for the right. Criminal justice reform has typically been an issue for the left,” John said in a video interview with the Bridgespan Group. “We’re interested in both of them. In both areas, and in education, these are issues where the left and the right have realized the current status quo isn’t working.”
The Arnolds unabashed approach to finding solutions may have roots in each of their earlier careers. John retired at 38 years old, after years as an energy trader at Enron before its demise and as founder of the hedge fund Centaurus Advisors. Laura is trained as an attorney, and worked as Executive Vice President and General Counsel at Cobalt International Energy, L.P. in Houston. Before that, she worked in mergers and acquisitions for a law firm in New York City.
LJAF’s mission is “to improve the lives of individuals by strengthening our social, governmental, and economic systems,” which it achieves by “systematically [examining] areas of society in which underperformance, inefficiency, concentrated power, lack of information, lack of accountability, lack of transparency, lack of balance among interests, or other barriers to human progress and achievement exist.”
Major Program Categories: The “grants” section of LJAF’s website is an invaluable tool for seeing how the foundation prioritizes its support and seeks to advance its mission. From 2011-2016, 30 percent of its grant dollars were awarded in the field of education, followed by 21 percent of grants awarded to evidence-based policy and innovation, and then new initiatives and criminal justice.
Within education, LJAF aims to advance the “portfolio model of school governance,” which ultimately can empower families with more school choice and address “systemic inequalities” and work toward improving educational outcomes.
As far as criminal justice is concerned, the foundation uses data and technology, as well as pilots and a practice/evaluation model driven by experts from both inside and outside the criminal justice field, to create a more fair, cost-effective system that reduces crime and ensures public safety. One example of this is the foundation’s work in Cleveland, Ohio, to reform the bail system in municipal courts.
Woven into education and criminal justice, as well as standing alone, are the Arnold Foundation’s Evidence-Based Policy and Innovation, Research Integrity, and Sustainable Public Finance Initiatives. For more information on all of LJAF’s initiatives and priorities, click here.
Within each of the program categories, you can find organizations receiving multi-year support from the foundation for direct programs, operating support and research, underscoring the foundation’s goal of supporting “sustainable and scalable solutions that result in transformational change.”
How to Apply: LJAF’s website features a section where Requests for Proposals and Letters of Interest are announced. Click here to see current open RFPs.
Name of Foundation: The Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF)
Location: Houston, TX
Contact Information: Inquire through form on website here
Coverage Area: National
Subject Area: Criminal Justice, Education, Evidence-Based Policy and Innovation, Research Integrity, Sustainable Public Finance
Assets: $1,766,641,213 (2014)
Last Year Total Giving: $85,348,365 (2014)
Recent News and Grantmaking: