The Power of an Idea

by Vartan Gregorian
December 18, 2019

Vartan Gregorian
Photo: Carnegie Corporation of New York

In the annals of American philanthropy, the most successful endeavors usually come out of a confluence of vision, expertise, and financial support. This is the case in the development of the world’s most beloved educational television program, Sesame Street.

It was Joan Ganz Cooney who came up with the revolutionary idea to harness the power of television for good. Lloyd Morrisett, then vice president of programs at Carnegie Corporation of New York, was an expert in technology and early childhood education who saw the transformational possibilities of Joan’s plan. Alan Pifer, the Corporation’s president, together with the board, backed up their vision and expertise with a $15,000 grant to produce a study of children’s television. With later collaboration with the Ford Foundation, that study led to the creation of the Children’s Television Workshop (now Sesame Workshop).

Joan Ganz Cooney’s favorite expression, often attributed to Tolstoy, is “All big ideas start as simple ones.” In the case of Sesame Street, the show’s extraordinary impact proves this principle. A simple idea became an international phenomenon that is still admired and presented throughout the world. Five decades on, it is enormously gratifying to reflect on the role Carnegie Corporation and Ford Foundation played in the creation of Sesame Street. We are proud of this investment, which continues to have a resounding impact on early childhood education at home and abroad.

Vartan Gregorian
President, Carnegie Corporation


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