John Palfrey is President of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, one of the nation’s largest philanthropies with assets of approximately $7 billion, and offices in Chicago, Mexico City, New Delhi and Abuja, Nigeria.
The Foundation funds the the MacArthur Fellowship, commonly but unofficially known as the “Genius Grant,” a $625,000, no-strings-attached award to extraordinarily talented and creative individuals as an investment in their potential. It is awarded annually to 20-30 individuals who have shown “extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.”
John is a well-respected educator, author, legal scholar and innovator with expertise in how new media is changing learning, education and other institutions. Throughout his career, he has demonstrated a commitment to rigorous thinking, disruption and creative solutions often made possible by technology, accessibility of information and diversity and inclusion. He has extensive experience in social change spanning the education, nonprofit and philanthropic sectors.
Prior to joining the Foundation, John served as Head of School at Phillips Academy, Andover, the only school of its kind to maintain need-blind admissions. During his tenure, the number of faculty members of color doubled and the student body grew more diverse. He oversaw the creation of the Tang Institute at Andover, which seeks to reform and democratize excellent teaching and learning.
He has published extensively on how young people learn in a digital era, as well as the effects of new technologies on society at large. He is the author or coauthor of several books, including Safe Spaces, Brave Spaces: Diversity and Free Expression in Education. A revised and expanded version of his book Born Digital: How Children Grow Up in a Digital Age, which he co-authored with Urs Gasser, was issued in 2016.
John holds a JD from Harvard Law School, an MPhil from the University of Cambridge, and an AB from Harvard College.