Trust for Mutual Understanding


Our geographic region

The Trust for Mutual Understanding (TMU) supports exchanges in the arts and the environment (and the intersection of the two) between professionals from the United States and our geographic region of 28 countries:

Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.

JEDI statement

Our justice, equity, diversity and inclusion (JEDI) statement:

We believe in the fundamental value and dignity of all individuals and pledge to continue and grow an environment that respects diverse traditions, heritages, and life experiences. The many perspectives of our current Trustees, Advisory Board members, and staff are highly valued for what they bring to the foundation’s practices, and we are conscious that we have more to do and more to learn as we look for ways to better engage diverse voices in all areas of TMU’s work.

Here are our ongoing commitments:

We strive to eliminate unfair discrimination in all its forms in our organization and programs. In that spirit, when recruiting and selecting trustees, staff, and advisors, we will consider candidates from a broad pool of qualified applicants with varied experiences and backgrounds, including those from outside of familiar networks.

In addition, we will regularly examine our systems, codes of conduct, practices, and policies to identify and address unintended barriers. In our work with Native and Indigenous grantees and philanthropic partners, we commit to uphold, incorporate, and value the principles of free, prior, and informed consent as stated in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

We also believe in the fundamental value and dignity of all life. We are committed to the principles of ecological justice - recognizing that humans and all other species and natural systems on Earth have intrinsic value and are inextricably interlinked and interdependent. We believe that Native communities – and Indigenous ways of knowing and being – possess a richness of wisdom and centuries of expertise regarding the inherent worth and interconnectedness of life and ecologically just stewardship.

We will encourage organizations we support to address justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion within their organizational practices. TMU works in many diverse geographies and cultures, and we seek to understand the distinctive and varied ways in which attention to justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion can combat isolation and open opportunity.


The Trust for Mutual Understanding was established in 1984 by an anonymous American philanthropist as a private, grantmaking organization dedicated to promoting improved communication, closer cooperation, and greater respect between the people of the United States, the Soviet Union, and other countries in Central and Eastern Europe. Our founder believed the greatest good could be achieved by encouraging people – individual citizens – to grow in understanding of each other and to appreciate each other’s languages, cultures, and value systems, both shared and different. She believed the “mutual understanding” resulting from these direct interactions at a human level (largely prohibited by governments at that time) was the essential first step toward achieving peaceful and lasting relationships among nations in the nuclear age. Supporting exchanges between professionals in the arts and the environment was part of her original vision based upon a deep appreciation of the importance of both cultural and ecological cooperation during times of political strife.

After nearly 40 years, the grantmaking of the Trust for Mutual Understanding still reflects the conviction that supporting direct, international, person-to person contact and professional collaboration in the arts and the environment can encourage global harmony. Supporting these relationships is no less urgent today within the context of a global pandemic; political division, conflict, and war; a cataclysmic climate crisis; and systemic economic, social, and racial inequities. Nevertheless, there remains relatively little funding for such direct exchanges, particularly among people in our geographic focus of Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe; the Baltic States; Central Asia; the Caucasus, and Mongolia. What little support there is—mainly governmental—is often restricted by political considerations. We remain committed to supporting exchanges to enable creative and talented people from different countries to come together to freely share ideas and foster creative expression and environmental stewardship in a nonpolitical context


“We meet, and we change each other.”

– Elizabeth J. McCormack

We believe exchanges, the simple act of bringing people together, can be radical and transformative. Direct exchanges between people, built upon the core principles of trust, mutualism, openness, equity, commitment, and resilience, can result in a myriad of personal and professional benefits – not only for and between individuals but also for networks and communities of people and for society and the natural world as a whole.

While we have and continue to support international travel and the physical movement of people from one place to another, for us, exchange is much more than just this. Exchanges are not simply a single ‘transaction’ but a lasting, transformative journey. Exchanges can be short and distinct but also extended, recurrent, and lasting. Exchanges can aim to initiate and foster new connections, to maintain ongoing professional collaborations, and to deepen and strengthen lasting personal relationships.

Exchanges can take many forms. They can take place face-to-face, in-person and also virtually, online (and through a combination of the two). We can exchange many things: cultures, experiences, expertise, histories, ideas, information, inspiration, knowledge, languages, resources (both financial and non-financial), stories, etc. And exchanges can take place at a personal level, between individuals, but also at a collective level, between institutions, communities, and networks.


Barbara Lanciers's photo

Barbara Lanciers

Executive Director

Irina Yurna's photo

Irina Yurna

Regional Representative

Alina Enggist's photo

Alina Enggist

Senior Program Officer

Caroline Mabee's photo

Caroline Mabee

Program Officer



Susan Berresford, Board Chair

Former Ford Foundation President, New York
Philanthropic Advisor, New York Community Trust, New York

Elizabeth Campbell

Executive Vice President, Programs and Communications, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, New York

Joel Motley

Managing Director, Public Capital Advisors, LLC

Blair Ruble, Vice Chair

Nonfiction Writer

Valerie Rockefeller

Board Chair, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, New York and Co-Chair, BankFWD


Jim Enote

CEO, Colorado Plateau Foundation

David Gordon

Philanthropic Advisor Former Executive Director, Goldman Environmental Prize, California

William H. Luers

Former President and CEO, United Nations Association, New York

Meiyin Wang

Producing Director, Perelman Performing Arts Center

Former Trustees and Advisors

  • Arlene Shuler ,
  • Donal O’Brien ,
  • Elizabeth J. McCormack ,
  • Isaac Shapiro ,
  • Joseph Polisi ,
  • Julie Kidd ,
  • Laura Chasin ,
  • Marcia McLean ,
  • Richard Lanier ,
  • Ruth Adams ,
  • Wade Greene

  • 1. founding Trustee
  • 2. founding Trustee
  • 3. founding Trustee and Director, retired as Trustee in 2019

Brand story

There comes a time in the life of any organization where major milestones cause a natural inclination toward self-assessment. 2020 marked the 35th anniversary of the creation of the Trust for Mutual Understanding. With the weight of our own history, as well as the possibilities presented by entering a new decade, in the forefront of our minds, our Trustees, Advisors, and staff members began thinking about how to intensify existing efforts to advocate on behalf of our grantees and our geographic region of focus to the wider philanthropic community.

This increased interest in advocacy brought about larger questions surrounding how we more clearly articulate our values and priorities both visually and through language, which, ultimately, led us to the decision to rebrand. Through this process, our goal was to articulate our values, engage our constituencies, and tell the story of who we are as a foundation. In examining current political and social trends, we decided it was important to move away from using the TMU acronym as our primary descriptor and, instead, lean heavily on the simplicity and beauty of our name: Trust for Mutual Understanding. 
These three words serve as the foundational element and anchor of our organization, and all three have deep meaning. In considering how best to embark on the rebrand process, we knew right away this would not be an exercise in raising our public profile.

Consensus was reached that a crucial outcome would be finding internal agreement regarding common language used to describe the work of the foundation as well as our geographic region of focus, which encompasses 30 countries worldwide. Instead of hiring an outside consulting firm, we decided to engage in a process that was reflective of our mission: bringing people together across borders to work on solutions to common issues.

Working with faculty and student teams at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore, Maryland and at Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design (MOME) in Budapest, Hungary, Trust for Mutual Understanding staff and board members engaged in a two-year-long series of bilateral encounters. The relationships built over these two years and the skills developed by all participants in this unique process are truly the most significant outcome of the rebrand; although, the brand itself is something to be proud of. With our new visual identity, every element has a story while the brand story itself provides a basis of common language and answers to strategic questions about who we are, what we do, and who we fund.

We’d like to extend our heartfelt thanks to Lee Davis of MICA and Bori Fehér of MOME for deftly and strategically leading this process – if only all collaborators were as thoughtful and talented. And to the MICA and MOME faculty and student teams, we wish to express our deepest gratitude for your hard work, brilliance, and for trusting us to carry out your vision into the future. It has been an honor to work with such dedicated colleagues. It is our hope that this new, refreshed identity will help serve as a platform of understanding and allow for deeper communication between our foundation and other peer funders, our community of grantees, and the pool of potential applicants.

Visual Identity

In examining current global political and social trends, we decided it was important to move away from using the TMU acronym as our primary descriptor and, instead, lean heavily on the simplicity and beauty of our name: Trust for Mutual Understanding.

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Download our anniversary publication from 2015, or browse between our yearly annual reports.