In 1946, Irving founded the Irving Harris Foundation as a way to give back to his community. His first grants helped youth pursue their education by providing reading and language materials, primarily at the high school level. He then shifted his support to the middle-school level because he believed he could make a greater impact with younger students. As research in child development and brain science emerged, Irving developed relationships with professionals in the field and became convinced that the greatest and most lasting impact could be made during the prenatal period and in the first few years of life. Irving was driven to help parents and communities become ready to nurture the growth and development of every child.
The work of the Foundation is also rooted in Jewish values that Irving held dear, especially the tradition of giving back to communities and the imperative to repair the world, or “Tikun Olam” in Hebrew. Irving’s perspective, observations, and experiences with the forces of anti-Semitism and bigotry inform the Foundation’s commitment to social justice in the United States and Israel.
Irving believed that the arts connect us in unique and compelling ways, enriching the human condition. He and his wife, Joan, worked together to create distinctive opportunities for creative expression in Chicago, New York and Aspen.
More than six decades later, the Irving Harris Foundation continues to focus on strengthening early childhood development, supporting the arts and culture and bringing a Jewish lens to issues of social justice that affect communities in our country and our world.