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The Risk Optimistic

A letter from the editors: Believe in risk

The Risk Optimistic explores the value of risk, the opportunity of risk, and the belief that taking a chance is worth it.

Is risk even the right word?

Because for some people, risk connotes a sense of recklessness or implies that certain people are born with an innate tolerance for riskiness. Yet, in exploring risk, it seems that for the people who take “big” risks, it is more about mitigating it than relishing in it, and research shows that entrepreneurs, often perceived to have a penchant for risk, are no more risk tolerant than any other group. Risk is not uncommon – it’s universal.

Taking calculated risks is part of our everyday lives, starting with taking a chance on a new item on the breakfast menu. But it doesn’t seem so common when the stakes are higher – when we reach not just from pure necessity, but for opportunity.

To risk is to see reward, weigh uncertainty, and hope it’s worth the gamble to achieve it. Yet, while we all have a hand to play, the stakes aren’t equal for all people in all places.

What is essential in risk is not only to see the reward and its possibility despite the odds, but to have the real ability to mitigate or accept the risks to achieve it.

“The Risk Optimistic” is about belief: the assurance that taking a chance is worthwhile, even without knowing the outcome.

It’s also the belief that if we value and support risk – in policy, community, and culture – we benefit from each person’s ability to make choices to define and achieve success.

Our founder, Ewing Kauffman, was a risk-taker. He charted his own path to success. He believed in the power of learning, investing in education, and the opportunity for everyday Americans to start and grow their own businesses – for him, those were good bets. At his Foundation, our mission requires us to ask: “What if everyone, regardless of their background, had the ability to take the calculated risk and own success?”

So, we begin the New Year with “The Risk Optimistic,” to explore what it means to risk for every person’s version of success in today’s America.

That begins with us, and an Uncommon Voice piece from our president and CEO Wendy Guillies on what it means for a private foundation to take risks. We challenge the legacy of the American risk-taker, asking thought leaders from around the country if this notion, born out of oppression, exploration, and democracy, can still fulfill the promise of the American Dream. We share a Q&A with Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code, who believes coding can teach girls to be brave and take risks. And we share readers’ thoughts on, and experiences with, risk.

During the next few weeks readers will see a variety of additional content from “The Risk Optimistic” as well as new themes in the coming months and throughout the year. So, take a chance, subscribe to our newsletter, follow us on social media to get the latest from Kauffman, and contact us with your own uncommon ideas.


“The Risk Optimistic” is about belief: the assurance that taking a chance is worthwhile, even without knowing the outcome. It’s also the belief that if we value and support risk – in policy, community, and culture – we benefit from each person’s ability to make choices to achieve success. With this initiative, Kauffman kicks off 2020 with insights, stories, and opportunities to explore what it means to take risks, and own your own success, however you choose to define it.

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