From our very first grant, our work has been rooted in the Schusterman family’s deep commitment to acting on the Jewish imperative to pursue justice (tzedek), repair the world (tikkun olam) and treat all people with dignity and civility (derekh eretz).
Our philanthropic journey began in Tulsa, OK, in 1987. Charles and Lynn Schusterman sat with their children at a table in their kitchen. Both had grown up in homes that emphasized the importance of giving back, and it was among the values that filled the home they built together.
Together with their children, Charles and Lynn decided to establish a family foundation as a way to give back to the causes and communities closest to their hearts: the Jewish people, Israel and their beloved hometown of Tulsa. They decided from the outset that they would focus on investing in the potential of young people.
“If you can get a bright and talented mind at a young age, you have got a lot to work with.” — Charles Schusterman
For the first 13 years, Charles brought the same philosophy to the Foundation as he did to running Samson, the family’s energy company. He did his homework, studied the field, evaluated organizations carefully and experimented with investments large and small that balanced risk with due diligence. Among the big investments: the American Israel Education Foundation to connect more students with Israel; Hillel to strengthen Jewish life on campuses in the U.S. and the Former Soviet Union; and the University of Oklahoma to establish a campus in Tulsa. Read A Notable Life: The 1987-2001 Inaugural Report.
In 2000, after Charles died, Lynn took over as Chair of the Foundation. Under her leadership, our work expanded geographically and programmatically. We established Schusterman Family Philanthropies—Israel to ground our work in Israel, as well as three operating programs to engage influential young leaders: ROI Community, REALITY and the Schusterman Fellowship. Lynn pushed the Jewish community to prioritize engaging young Jews, became an outspoken advocate for inclusion and equality, with particular focus on the LGBTQ community, and invested in addressing the epidemic of child abuse and neglect in Israel and Tulsa. Read Lynn Schusterman's 2011 Giving Pledge Letter and Values in Action: Celebrating The Foundation’s 20th Anniversary.
“We live in a time of unparalleled prosperity in some parts of the world, deep impoverishment in others and growing willingness of the next generation to strive to bridge the gap between the two. In Jewish tradition, this desire to serve is captured best when people express a desire to engage in tikkun olam.” — Lynn Schusterman
In 2011, Charles and Lynn’s daughter, Stacy, became more involved in the Foundation’s work. Under her leadership, the Foundation expanded nationally with the K12 education work it had started in Tulsa. It was through this work that Stacy began to understand how access to a quality education is far too often determined by a student’s race or zip code. This led our education portfolio to focus on investing in developing excellent educators and equitable access to excellent instruction, particularly for low-income students of color.
Through our work in education, Stacy recognized how inequity underpins almost every issue of importance in today’s society. When she became Chair of the Foundation in 2018, we codified a commitment to equity as a core value. For us, equity means creating a society that is more just and inclusive, one that creates equal opportunities for all people. We aim to be intentional in how we center equity—particularly racial and gender equity—in our work in K12 education, the Jewish community, Israel, Tulsa and, more recently, investments in criminal justice, gender and reproductive equity, and voting rights. Our values also include a commitment to impact, optimism, humility and collaboration.
“We have a responsibility to listen to people’s stories, to learn their histories and to see their experiences and perspectives in a way that challenges our own understanding of the world.” — Stacy Schusterman
Today, we are guided by our legacy of drawing on Jewish values to improve lives, strengthen communities and advance equity. We are proud of the organizations and people we support that are working to repair and rebuild our world. In 2021, we changed our name to Schusterman Family Philanthropies to encompass the full scope of our grantmaking and advocacy work as we strive to advance our values and issues in the public sphere. As we look toward the future, we will continue to grow to accommodate new opportunities and challenges and to devote our resources to partnering with organizations that share our values and advance our mission.
Additional Reading: “The First 30 Years of Making It Possible: The Story of Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies”