In the early 1920s, James B. Duke had set his sights on the Catawba River, looking to use that natural resource to bring electricity to the region. Instead of the river flowing through the Carolinas “in waste to the sea,” his hydroelectric power company would develop dams and lakes to harness the water’s energy.
Much of the nation was in an economic upswing. The Roaring Twenties had swept in, along with a surge of prosperity and optimism. Cities swelled, fueled by the promise of the industrial boom. Mr. Duke wanted people to have those same opportunities in his beloved Carolinas.
Through his private foundation, which he established in 1924, he dreamed of channeling profits from his business endeavors to safeguard children, strengthen health care, bolster education and support spiritual life. In the years after he codified his philanthropic vision, his legacy helped build campuses, hospitals, children’s homes and churches.
Nine decades later, The Duke Endowment has distributed more than $3.5 billion in grants, or $7.9 billion in current dollars. The critical issues that Mr. Duke identified remain the focus of our Child Care, Health Care, Higher Education and Rural Church program areas. His vision for empowering communities across the Carolinas still shapes our grantmaking goals.
But as we adapt to today’s complex challenges, we increasingly focus on prevention and early intervention, supporting work that tackles root causes and promises greater long-term impact. We highlight four examples in our 2016 Annual Report. We invite you to read about outcomes from a program to strengthen families, a statewide cancer screening project, an effort to help high school students aim for college and a summer literacy academy. By moving upstream, investing strategically in effective programs and research, we strive to fulfill Mr. Duke’s mandate to improve lives in the Carolinas by helping organizations achieve sustained and significant change.
To illustrate our theme — “Working Upstream” — Asheville artist Julyan Davis has generously allowed us to share some of his beautiful work. Mr. Davis has painted several western North Carolina waterfalls and rivers, including the ones on these pages. His painting Merry Falls is on display at our Charlotte headquarters. His work bears a special connection to Mr. Duke’s legacy and the place he called home, and we are pleased to present it here.