CIRI Spotlight: Katherine Gottlieb

Alaska’s first MacArthur Fellows Award recipient, CIRI shareholder Katherine Gottlieb, will receive her final $100,000 this year as part of her total grant of $500,000 to be used in any way she sees fit.

Gottlieb, president and chief executive officer of Southcentral Foundation, became the first Alaskan to receive the MacArthur Fellows Program Award in 2004. Since then, two other Alaskans have been selected for the award, also known as the “Genius Award,” Alutiiq Museum Executive Director Sven Haakanson of Kodiak in 2007 and Bethel physician Jill Seaman this year.

For Gottlieb, the decision on how to use the money has been a deeply personal one.

“When I contribute, it’s between God and me,” she said.

She noted that the main impact the award has had on her personally is that it has affirmed the work done at Southcentral Foundation. “Money is not a big value in my life, but I am blessed with it,” she said.

She was followed by representatives of the MacArthur Fellows Program for two years before she received the award, and they gained detailed knowledge of SCF and it programs.

The program awards unrestricted fellowships to talented individuals who have shown “extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.” The program’s intent is to encourage people of outstanding talent to pursue their own creative, intellectual, and professional inclinations. The fellowships are awarded directly to individuals, paid out in quarterly installments of $25,000.

The program is part of the John D. and Katherine T. MacArthur Foundation. No products or reports are expected from the recipients. “Although nominees are reviewed for their achievements, the fellowship is not a reward for past accomplishment, but rather an investment in a person’s originality, insight, and potential. Indeed, the purpose of the MacArthur Fellows Program is to enable recipients to exercise their own creative instincts for the benefit of human society,” according to the foundation.

Gottlieb said she felt it was very meaningful and powerful that she was the first Alaska Native to receive the award and wore her regalia for any photos used in connection with it in order to honor her culture. While she is both Filipino and an Alaska Native, she feels that it’s her Native heritage that needs to be highlighted in order to counter the many and depressing statistics relating to Alaska Native people, such as the high rate of suicide.

“I wanted to bring Alaska Native people forward,” she said, adding that shining positive light on Alaska Natives makes an important statement.

Gottlieb said in deciding where to make contributions, she looks for programs that multiply and expand. She also looks for those with low administrative costs. As an example, she cited the major contributions she has she made to the SCF Wellness Center. Although most of her donations have been anonymous, those to the Wellness Center are not.

Michelle Tierney, SCF vice president of organizational development and innovation, said Gottlieb demonstrates her passion and commitment to the health of the community and to employees every day by leading the organization and also through her personal commitment.

“Katherine has used the MacArthur award to give back to the community and employees in many ways. She wanted to give back to employees-so she has made personal contributions from the award to initiate the Wellness Center and the Employee and Community Assistance Fund. These programs support employees on their journey to wellness,” she said.

Having the financial ability – and the total freedom – to make significant contributions has led Gottlieb into discussions with a wide range of people. In some cases, her contributions have been toward seed money that would start a new program. In some cases, people have realized as a result of the discussion that the money could be raised in other ways.

“I think the award does open doors for conversations with people you might not see otherwise,” she said.

In the end, the decision comes from her heart.

“I pray a lot, asking ‘What am I supposed to do with this money?’ ” she said.