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Investing in the Future of the Great Lakes Region


Dear Friends,

The Joyce Foundation observes its 70th year in 2018. As we commemorate this milestone, we are deepening our commitment to the mission and goals that have long inspired our work: supporting evidence-informed policies that improve quality of life, promote safe and healthy communities, and build a just society for the people of the Great Lakes region. I would like to take this opportunity to share with you what we hope to achieve over the next few years and how that will be reflected in our 2018-2020 grant-making portfolio.


Over the next 20 years, the population of the Great Lakes region is projected to grow, but grow more slowly than the rest of the nation. In addition, it will age more rapidly. A steady stream of new births will account for much of the region’s growth, rather than migration from other states or countries. The overall trendline suggests that prospects for overall growth and prosperity will rely to a great extent on children born here and young adults who already live in the region. Cities and regions with educated and skilled workers are likely to drive economic growth. Accordingly, we must make sure that we equip our children and young adults with the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in education, careers, and community life, and provide them with a safe and healthy environment in which to achieve their goals. Accordingly, the Joyce Foundation’s 2018-2020 grant-making strategy will direct a substantial portion of our resources to policies supporting the next generation.


Demographic projections also tell us that population growth in the region over the next two decades will be led by people of color – especially young Hispanics, but also African Americans, Asians, Native Americans, and others. With the region’s success tied to the aspirations of all young people and their full participation in our economy and society, Great Lakes states must address a history of persistent racial disparities in wealth, income, and education. Our strategy will focus on expanding opportunities for lower-income and minority children, and removing barriers that often prevent them from reaching their full potential. Our commitment to advancing racial equity and economic mobility not only reflects our belief in a just and inclusive society; it recognizes that they are essential conditions for building broad-based prosperity in the region.

Racial and economic segregation is another driver of disparity in our region, shutting off potential avenues for moving up the economic ladder. Research by the Equality of Opportunity Project suggests that segregation is a key factor in predicting stagnant economic mobility, where children who grow up poor do not escape poverty as adults. One reason: they lack “social capital,” the interactions with others who could help them succeed.

In unifying our programs around the goals of supporting the next generation and advancing racial equity and economic mobility, we will work toward a common purpose across the foundation: a more prosperous and equitable future for the Great Lakes region.


Our primary grant making region is made up of six Great Lakes states: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Because the region occupies a central role in American politics and debates about economic strategy and healthy communities, the work we do here can have an impact in other parts of the country. At the same time, we learn from smart state and local policies put in place in other parts of the country or at the federal level, and sometimes invest in projects outside the region. Through a strategic planning process conducted by our board and staff, the Joyce Foundation approved five program strategies for the grant-making strategy cycle running from January 2018 through December 2020.

Education & Economic Mobility: Increase economic mobility through equitable access to high-quality education and jobs. Policies to ensure that K-12 students attend schools with high-quality educators, graduate with the momentum they need to succeed in college, and attain postsecondary credentials that lead to careers with family-sustaining wages.

Environment: Effectively address long-term environmental challenges facing the next generation in the Great Lakes region. Solutions to the critical long-term challenges of climate change and the health of the Great Lakes, and policies ensuring access for all to safe, clean, affordable drinking water.

Gun Violence Prevention & Justice Reform: Promote safe and just communities. Stronger policies to reduce gun violence; 21st century policing to build police-community trust and legitimacy; and decreased incarceration of young offenders.

Democracy: Promote an informed, engaged, and representative democracy acting in the public interest, in which all citizens have a stake. Increased voter access and participation through fair elections, and a strong, independent media to inform policy making, hold government accountable, and motivate public engagement in our democracy.

Culture: Inspire creativity and cultural stewardship in the next generation of Great Lakes residents by strengthening the role of artists and arts organizations in fostering culturally vibrant and sustainable communities. Promote arts access, support creativity, and build organizational and community capacity in the arts through a lens of equity, diversity, and inclusion capturing demographic shifts in the Great Lakes region.


The Joyce Foundation will continue to support evidence-based reforms in public policies and systems by funding research, policy development, and advocacy. Our grant making remains rooted in values that steer us toward a more equitable and just society with safe and healthy communities, and retains our commitment to traditional areas of focus such as education, workforce preparation, the environment, and reducing gun violence. But at the same time, we are responding to shifts in the economic, demographic, and social landscape with new program strategies to sharpen our focus on the overarching themes of next generation, racial equity, and economic mobility.

Here are a few of the key changes in our program strategies for 2018-2020. You can find more details in the program descriptions provided in the What We Fund section of this website:

  • The new Education & Economic Mobility Program merges our Education and Employment programs to address the critical need to ensure K-12 students attend schools with high quality educators, graduate from high school with the momentum they need to be successful in college, and attain postsecondary credentials leading to careers with family-sustaining wages.
  • The Environment Program includes new focus areas in its Climate Solutions and Great Lakes strategies. Joyce will begin funding development of policies to guide aggressive deployment of electric vehicles and other advanced technologies to remove carbon from urban surface transportation systems. The Great Lakes strategy adds a new focus on policies to assure that all residents have access to clean, safe, and affordable drinking water.
  • The Gun Violence Prevention & Justice Reform Program includes a new focus on justice reform given its inextricable link to urban gun violence. The expanded program is based on our assessment that for communities to be safe and just, we must reduce gun violence, reform policing to build police-community trust and legitimacy, and reduce overreliance on incarceration of young offenders.
  • The Democracy Program has narrowed its focus to what we see as the most salient electoral issues – redistricting, voting rights, and expanded ballot access. At the same time, we have expanded the program to include media grant making given the vital role of a free and independent press in protecting and improving our democracy.
  • Among changes to the Culture Program is a shift from grants for outreach projects centered around one-time programs or events in favor of more comprehensive or sustained arts access for underrepresented artists and audiences.

The Joyce Foundation looks forward to working on all our 2018-2020 funding priorities in partnership with grantees, fellow funders, state and local governments, and other valued partners who share our belief that a community is stronger when it shares benefits broadly among its people.

There is a lot of new information on this website describing our policy goals, programs, and application process in greater detail. If you have questions, please do not hesitate to email us at

Thank you.

Ellen Alberding 

President, The Joyce Foundation

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