In 1984, the MacArthur Foundation sold its largest asset, the Bankers Life & Casualty Company. That same year, the MacArthur Foundation started the Program on Peace and International Cooperation.
The next year, the MacArthur Foundation MacArthur Foundation sold eleven properties in New York City for $500,000,000, which was then the largest sale of residential real estate in the New York’s history. The MacArthur Foundation also established the Fund for Neighborhood Initiatives to revitalize some of Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods. In its first year, the Fund for Neighborhood Initiatives disbursed $720,000 in grants to thirty neighborhood groups.
In 1986, Thornton F. Bradshaw was elected Chairman of the Board. The MacArthur Foundation awarded a $5,000,000 grant to produce A World of Ideas, which Bill Moyers produced for the Public Broadcasting Service (P.B.S.).
That same year, the MacArthur Foundation also awarded over $9,000,000 to conservation groups and began the Research and Writing Competition. Over the course of eighteen years, the Research and Writing Competition awarded over 600 grants worth almost $35,000,000 to independent scholars in fifty-two countries who were conducting research and writing about peace.
In 1989, Kirby became Chairman of the MacArthur Foundation, a post he briefly held until May of 1990, at which point he became Vice Chairman and Elizabeth J. McCormack became Chairman. Kirby held the post of Vice chairman for a few months until his death in October.
Under the leadership of Doolan, Corbally, Bradshaw, and Kirby, the MacArthur Foundation made grants to maintain the fledgling National Public Radio (N.P.R.), create the PBS documentary series P.O.V.; produce the six-part documentary series The Power of Myth (1988), which Bill Moyers made for PBS; produce the five-part documentary series The Civil War (1990), which Ken Burns made for PBS; and fund the MacNeil Lehrer News Hour (now the PBS NewsHour). In 1989, the MacArthur Foundation began to $40,000,000 in grants over a ten-year-long period to pay for reforms of the Chicago Public Schools (C.P.S.).
Adele E. Simmons, former President of Hampshire College, served as President of the MacArthur Foundation from 1989 to 1999. The MacArthur Foundation liquidated the remainder of John D. MacArthur's landholdings.
Under the leadership of Ms. Simmons, the MacArthur Foundation established the Population Program, which opened field offices in Mexico, Brazil, Nigeria, and India. After the Soviet Union collapsed, the MacArthur Foundation also opened an office in Moscow.
The MacArthur Foundation’s Population Program stated in 2009, "The Foundation's population and reproductive health grantmaking has two goals: to reduce maternal mortality and morbidity; and to advance young people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights. Geographic priorities are India, Mexico, and Nigeria."
The Foundation supports efforts that seek to accelerate progress on the United Nations Millennium Development Goal #5 aimed at improving maternal health. Grantmaking includes a special focus on two of the primary causes of maternal death: postpartum hemorrhage and eclampsia.
Priorities for grantmaking on the sexual and reproductive health of young people include efforts to increase the availability of high quality sexuality education and confidential, youth-friendly health services.
Ms. Simmons transferred managerial control of the MacArthur Foundation from the Board of Directors to the staff. She also consolidated nine programs into four.
The MacArthur Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York supported a consortium that advocated American-Russian cooperation in dismantling Soviet weapons of mass destruction (W.M.D.). This led to Senators Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar drafting legislation to create the U.S. Cooperative Threat Reduction (C.T.R.) program within the U.S. Department of Defense's Defense Threat Reduction Agency (D.T.R.A.).
In 1995, the first president of the MacArthur Foundation, John E. Corbally, was elected Chairman of the Board. In 1996, the MacArthur Foundation awarded an initial grant to the Coalition for the International Criminal Court to coordinate the activities of human rights organizations and other NGOs that were working to establish the International Criminal Court. Two years later, the MacArthur Foundation provided funds "for civil society organizations from developing countries to attend the Rome Diplomatic Conference on the International Criminal Court," as stated in the foundation's official history.
Johnathan T. Fanton, former President of the New School University, served as President of the MacArthur Foundation from 1999 to 2009. Under his leadership the MacArthur Foundation made fewer grants, but made larger grants that covered longer spans of time. He also introduced the Encyclopedia of Life and the Law and Neuroscience Project.
In 1999, the MacArthur Foundation supported the $1,300,000,000 Plan for Transformation of Public Housing in Chicago, the goal of which was to help the C.H.A. (Chicago Housing Authority), which the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (H.U.D.) had taken over in 1996, replace government-owned high-rise slums with new mixed-income communities and help residents improve their lives.
In 2000, the MacArthur Foundation created the Partnership for New Communities to galvanize civic and corporate support for the Plan for Transformation. That same year, the MacArthur Foundation provided the first of a series of grants to human rights groups to support activities related to the prosecution of Hissène Habré, the former dictator of Chad, on charges of crimes against humanity.
Also in 2000, the MacArthur Foundation partnered with the Carnegie Corporation, Ford Foundation, and Rockefeller Foundation to commit $100,000,000 to strengthen higher education in Africa. By 2005, funding had increased to $350.000,000.
In 2001, the MacArthur Foundation started Models for Change, its juvenile justice reform initiative, with an initial commitment of $40,000,000. By 2006, the MacArthur Foundation had committed $100,000,000 to the program.
The MacArthur Foundation, in celebration of its 25th anniversary in 2002, awarded $42,000,000 in unsolicited grants to arts and culture organizations, mostly headquartered in Chicago and South Florida. That same year, the MacArthur Foundation became a founding partner with the L'Agence Française de Développement, Conservation International, the European Union (E.U.), the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the Government of Japan, and the World Bank in the Critical Ecosystems Partnership Fund with a grant of $25,000,000 "to strengthen biodiversity preservation in threatened areas," as stated in "30 Years of The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation."