The Rockefeller Foundation’s proud history with the Bellagio Center began in 1959, when Ella Holbrook Walker, the American Principessa della Torre e Tasso, offered her Italian villa “for purposes connected with the promotion of international understanding,” and Dean Rusk, the Foundation’s president, accepted her generous donation and embraced its enormous potential.
During the 50 years since, the Bellagio Center has served as a backdrop for many meaningful advances. The Center was a launching pad for ideas that underpin modern systems of international finance. It was a staging ground for efforts to mo bilize an agricultural revolution that saved a billion lives in Latin America and Asia. It was the setting for negotiations and agreements that make it easier for people suffering from HIV/AIDS and other devastating, deadly afflictions to access better vaccines and drugs, more efficiently, in more places.
To day, the world faces new economic challenges, different social strains, and unprecedented environmental threats. Therefore, the Bellagio Center’s work—and way of working—has never been more significant. The Center cross-pollinates disparate traditions of expertise, inquiry, and innovation by hosting scientists and artists, theorists and practitioners, those who shape policy and those affected by it. It fosters dialogue and discovery, conversation and candid, robust exchanges of ideas. It infuses unorthodox, radical thinking into searches for solutions to critical global issues. It marries the fundamental functions of right brain ingenuity and left brain rationality. It brings people together from countries far and wide, challenging them to find common ground and push the boundaries of collective knowledge and action.
If history is any guide, the Bellagio Center’s extraordinary residents and conference participants will certainly envision and implement some of the next half century’s most innovative ideas. My Rockefeller Foundation colleagues and I are eager to join them in all that’s sure to come.