Who We Are

Deeply Rooted Dance

Our History

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 families and communities become ready to nurture the growth and development of every child.

Based on his understanding that deep-rooted injustices could only be solved through effective policy and informed action, Irving was also instrumental in transforming the University of Chicago’s Committee on Public Policy into a world class graduate school. Today The University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy trains the next generation of leaders to become agents of change on a range of issues, including economic inequality, urban development, international policy, and child and family policy.   

The work of the Foundation is also rooted in Jewish values that Irving held dear, especially the tradition of giving back to communities. Irving’s perspective, observations, and experiences with the forces of antisemitism 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.

Nearly eight decades after our founding, the Irving Harris Foundation continues to focus on supporting and partnering with others to address root causes and create a more just world for every baby, family, and community.