Ellen Hancock

Advancing the social and economic well-being of populations and communities

Ellen Hancock, a former tech executive whose career put a break in the glass ceiling, has pledged $500,000 to advance RAND research on the social and economic well-being of populations and communities in the United States and throughout the world.

September 11, 2020

Ellen Hancock, a former tech executive whose career put a break in the glass ceiling, has pledged $500,000 to advance RAND research on the social and economic well-being of populations and communities in the United States and throughout the world.

Her gift comes amid an unprecedented campaign at RAND to raise $400 million to support world-changing research on the critical issues of the 21st century. It will establish the Ellen Hancock Impact Award for Social and Economic Well-Being.

“There are very few research organizations that pursue the breadth of topics that RAND does,” Hancock said. “You have this cadre of talent with the skills and abilities to really make a difference. But they need to have some independent, unrestricted funding to increase the impact of RAND’s research and analysis.”

Hancock began her career as a junior programmer at IBM in the late 1960s, when desktops were desk-sized and memory meant magnetic tape. Over the next three decades, she worked her way up the ranks to the executive offices. She was the first woman to become a senior vice president at IBM.

From there, she moved to National Semiconductor Corp., and then to a struggling company named Apple. USA Today described her 1996 appointment as Apple’s chief technology officer as “jumping aboard what some pundits consider a sinking ship.” She oversaw the development of a new operating system for the company’s Macintosh computer.

She later became the chief executive of Exodus Communications, a web-hosting company in the early days of the dot-com boom. The company went public barely a week after she took over. Within a few years, it had become the largest host company on the internet, with clients that included Merrill Lynch, Google, General Electric, and USA Today. Hancock left the company in 2001.

She joined a RAND advisory board in 2008 and later served as its chair. The board, today known as the Social and Economic Policy Advisory Board, provides support and guidance for a suite of RAND research programs that confront issues ranging from climate change to police–community relations to the challenges of new technology.

“The work doesn’t become any less interesting over time,” she said. “If anything, it becomes even more interesting. Once you know what RAND is working on, you want to stay involved as much as you can.”

She points to a study from several years ago that investigated how criminal defendants fared in Philadelphia’s court system. It found that those who were represented by public defenders received sentences that were more than a year less, on average, than those who had court-appointed private lawyers. The findings raised fundamental questions of fairness and equal justice.

Research like that—independent, thorough, with an impact that can be measured in real lives and livelihoods—has convinced Hancock to commit more than $1 million to RAND over the years. Her latest gift will help extend the reach, impact, and influence of completed research at RAND.

“I left it up to RAND leaders to determine where they want to make that investment,” she said. “If it allows them to follow up on an existing research project, fine. If it’s a brand-new study for which there’s no research sponsor, fine.

“Research shouldn’t always be tied to the government or a particular company or foundation. I wanted to give RAND some latitude to conduct research they think will benefit the public good.”

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