Four Reasons the Stimson Center Has Remained a Grant Magnet for 25 Years

The Henry L. Stimson Center is celebrating its 25th anniversary and it has aged well. In fact, it looksmaahhh-velous. Stimson is the thinking person’s think tank and is still pulling in tons of grants, while some of its peers are passing the hat.

This security policy shop has thrived against high odds not by blindly chasing the money, but by being nimble and creative enough to apply its distinctive approach to new problems in a way that has kept the funds flowing. 

Who was Henry Lewis Stimson? Why, he was Secretary of War in the Taft administration and a revered wiseman known for his practical, nonpartisan approach to national security. The center was founded in 1989, the same year the Berlin War crumbled, and although the center is dedicated to the promotion of peace and security, it has kept pace with the changing times. So while it still wins backing from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Ploughshares Fund and the MacArthur Foundation, Stimson also draws support from the Critical Ecosystems Partnership Fund, the Ship and Ocean Foundation, and Google.

Last year, MacArthur recognized Stimson with its Award for Creative and Effective Institutions. Why? Because, as Stimson board member and former State Department correspondent Andrea Koppel says, “Stimson’s areas of priority have changed as the world has. They have a broader view of what national security means, and an innovative approach to these issues.”

Here are four ways Stimson stands apart:

  • Stimson works on approaches to non-conventional challenges such as water management, wildlife poaching and responses to humanitarian crises. Wildlife poaching? Yes, it turns out the terrorist group Al-Shabaab that shot up the Nairobi mall last September is partially supported by money from killing elephants for their tusks and similar activity.
  • Stimson works in vital Asian river basins like the Mekong and Indus, facilitating better information sharing and developing smarter approaches to hydropower development. It brings together environmental groups, regional institutions and governments.
  • The center acts as a convener. As president Ellen Laipson puts it, “We work to bring together diverse stakeholders to facilitate finding the areas of agreement, often across political and institutional boundaries.  Examples include bringing together lawyers, military officers and human rights activists on genocide prevention, and local environmental activists with government officials and regional water management organizations in Southeast Asia. This approach has proven effective in generating policy recommendations and is part of Stimson’s impact far beyond the Washington beltway."
  • Co-founder Barry Blechman. He’s still there and he’s a rock star. Says Blechman: "Stimson has developed a reputation as a think tank that not only does solid analysis, but that gets things done, convening working groups and coalitions of NGOs that can be influential with the government.  Its careful adherence to non-partisanship is an essential element for its effectiveness.  Moreover, while gradually expanding its agenda, it has worked on certain issues persistently throughout its history, including weapons of mass destruction, South Asia and the Persian Gulf, and peace operations and healing post-conflict societies. This persistence has given it a reputation for authority and insight on these and other issues."

Adds Koppel: “What Stimson reflects today is very much the new world and new paradigm of the 21st century. It’s now in the center’s DNA."

And so the grants keep coming.