Author Archives for Elenoa Fuka

How Covid-19 Has Driven Philanthropists to Change Lanes [Valerie Conn blog]

September 18, 2020 3:43 pm Published by Leave a comment

Science philanthropy is like a road trip. You pick a lane of scientific endeavor that you are passionate about—it could be climate change, energy storage, neuroscience, ocean science, or the like. This is a lane where there are big problems to solve, so you stick with that lane for the long haul through years, even decades, of sustained funding. And over time, you cover meaningful ground: you establish programs, launch cutting-edge laboratories, or even end up funding a discovery that for generations will affect how we detect disease, how we conserve an ecosystem, how we build a battery, or how we grow our food.

Investing in scientific discovery is good for humanity, but rarely immediately good for the bottom line. It is a high-risk financial endeavor that requires much trial and error, with multiple shots on goal until reaching a breakthrough. That’s where private funding comes in. Philanthropists can go on a financially-risky road trip to fund discovery-driven research in a way that public funding cannot.

For decades, philanthropists have taken long-term risks for generational, long-term rewards. And at the Science Philanthropy Alliance, we have worked for the last five years to advise those funders on basic science projects, on how to navigate their lanes of scientific choice.

But today, Covid-19 has remapped those road trips. For an all-hands-on-deck crisis such as an urgent public health catastrophe, what role exists for long-term, basic science to play—and for the funders who support it, who may currently work outside the lane of infectious disease?

The Need for Basic Science in an Acute Crisis

We live in a world that basic science built—the long-term funding decisions made years and decades ago that have led to the discoveries that shape our lives today. Here’s an example that might strike home. Fifty years ago, the scientific community invested in basic research that led to genetic sequencing technology, an essential first step to develop a vaccination for a virus, such as for SARS-Cov-2, which causes Covid-19.

Insufficient funding to the basic sciences in the 1970s would mean no genome sequencing, thus no rapid development for a vaccine today. What this tells us: investing in basic science during a pandemic is in fact a long-term solution to a long-term problem. SARS-CoV-2 is the third coronavirus we have seen in the last two decades, and the science behind our solutions to Covid-19 will expand our tool kit to prevent and respond to future pandemics. This same frame applies to the need for preventive care for issues ranging from climate change to Alzheimer’s, which basic science research can fund.

Thankfully, philanthropies have stepped up by changing lanes to navigate these challenging times.

 Changing Lanes—And Even Direction

This summer, after the initial shock of the pandemic and quarantine had settled into a new routine for our lives, we surveyed our Alliance members and the funder community to get a sense for how the pandemic affected their decision-making. Over 90% surveyed had in fact funded Covid-19-related efforts since the pandemic began, and made other accommodations such as extending their funding to grantees that had been set to expire during the pandemic. Of those who have funded Covid-19-related efforts, half intend to do so through the second half of 2020, and nearly a third said they would continue beyond then.

In our survey, we observed that funders had shifted their funding strategy in three different ways. 

  1. Staying in their Lane—Yet Investing More

We learned that several of our funders stayed in their lane—and not because they did not want to fund biomedical research, but because they already were! Many of the ones who do fund biomedical research expanded their funding portfolio to include funding research related to the pandemic.

  1. Changing Lanes for the Short-Term

We were heartened to learn that four foundations with a physical-sciences focus temporarily changed lanes to fund primarily local organizations, supporting an array of grants to areas such as vulnerable populations, public health infrastructure, and nearby medical centers. After stepping up to support their community during the pandemic, these non-biomedically-oriented foundations plan to settle back into their previous physical sciences program lane.

  1. Permanent Change for the Long Haul

Our survey showed that several foundations will permanently change lanes because of the pandemic. At least eight foundations plan to expand into infectious disease research funding—either by building on existing programs or establishing infectious disease as a new funding priority area. This news is particularly heartening because this shift in reaction to the pandemic

would nearly double the number of organizations in our survey funding infectious disease research, from 10 to 18.

How the Alliance Is Helping Navigate These Lane Changes: An Infectious Disease Working Group

To meet this emerging demand for shifting lanes to fund more basic science infectious disease research, we have created a working group of 20 experts to focus on the short-term scientific priorities for overcoming the current crisis, and to take a longer perspective on what is urgently needed research breakthroughs to prevent future pandemics. Chaired by our senior science advisor and former Princeton University president, microbiologist Shirley Tilghman, this working group will take a laser focus on the areas where nimble philanthropic funding to basic sciences can help us respond to Covid-19 and prepare for the coronaviruses to come.

As is our custom, and in response to the funders surveyed, we will continue to convene peer-to-peer meetings about COVID-19 research, providing Alliance members and other funders an opportunity to learn together what the gaps in scientific research are, and to drive down the highway of infectious disease basic research discovery, together.




Promoting Diversity in Science [Alliance blog]

September 18, 2020 3:43 pm Published by Leave a comment

Dr. Freeman Hrabowski’s career as a champion for diversity in mathematics, engineering, and science began in one of the least likely places: a jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama. At age 12, Hrabowski joined Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to march with over a thousand children to stand against segregation, leading him to spend five nights in jail. Over the five decades that followed, he went on to receive a Ph.D. in higher education administration/statistics and become president of the first fully integrated university in Maryland: University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC).

Channeling his analytical mind, deep life experience, and strong sense of empathy, Hrabowski co-founded UMBC’s preeminent Meyerhoff Scholars Program, which supports underrepresented minorities who go on to pursue advanced degrees and research careers in science, mathematics, and engineering.

During our most recent webinar, Scientific Research in Challenging Times, Hrabowski joined Dr. Robert Tjian, Science Philanthropy Alliance senior science advisor and former president at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, to discuss the state of racial equality in science, as well as the opportunities and obstacles we all face to make progress on this issue.

Hrabowski believes that we are at a crossroads, where COVID-19 and the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others by police officers have further exposed the systemic inequalities in our society. This is especially true in STEM among the ranks of faculty, which have, for a long time, woefully lacked meaningful diversity. In this moment of disease and disparity across racial and gendered lines, Hrabowski argues we have a chance to address systemic inequalities—but only if we attack them with the same systems-level thinking that we would use to remove a cancer from the body.

In his 2013 TED Talk, Hrabowski laid out four pillars to expand diversity across the scientific pipeline—principles that he believes can be replicated in universities across the United States.

These are Hrabowski’s four pillars of success in science, which he also discusses at length in his recent book co-authored with Peter Henderson and Philip Rous, The Empowered University:

  1. High Expectations: Identify students at the undergrad level with good grades, a rigor for coursework, test-taking skills, and a passion for hard work and curiosity.
  2. Building Community: Require students and faculty to work together in groups, learning how to build trust and ask good questions of their peers and counselors, but also learning how to explain concepts to others with clarity.
  3. Great Researchers Produce Great Researchers: Mentorship and commitment to young people in the lab and on the bench give them vital experience with science, which is needed to spark student’s passion.
  4. Evaluation: Program assessment must be built in from the beginning to both inform how the program operates and to demonstrate what works.

To support universities as they work to make these four pillars a reality on college campuses, Hrabowski calls for leadership from the philanthropic community.

Private funders can make decisions quickly and create specific funding opportunities to help establish or maintain these pillars across many science research communities. Here are some concrete steps that Hrabowski suggests both institutions and philanthropic funders can take to combat systemic inequality:

  1. Increase the Pool: Increase the pool of well-prepared students entering graduate school. Students can’t succeed if they have to wait tables for 22 hours a week. Funders need to give young people funding to focus on their studies and work in labs, not restaurants.
  2. Mentors as Champions: Give early-career postdocs support to help them write and submit grants. Mentors and leadership need to foster talent over a sustained period, acting as champions to “knock down doors for students.”  The best mentors will build empathetic, collaborative relationships with their students—relationships that will be crucial to help foster the resilience needed to navigate the challenges and pitfalls that come during the early years of scientific education at the undergraduate and graduate levels. This also leads to self-sufficiency, and the capacity to identify the resources available to overcome obstacles.
  3. Leaders Own Change: To make progress, people with power must take ownership of the issue. Senior scientists with accolades and tenure have real power. Hrabowski remembers from his early career at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign that there was only one woman among the mathematics faculty. Still, she supported him in his development because she related to his experience. Women can often identify and empathize with the lived experience of students of color. When there are faculty of color, they often lack the centralized power to make a change. Leadership must come from the top and must show a strong commitment to change.
  4. Incentives for Faculty Engagement: Underrepresented faculty traditionally get more involved in diversity and inclusion programs. They sometimes also need help and support to be able to give more time and energy. Institutions should provide funding to faculty who volunteer their time on diversity and inclusion issues to ensure they receive adequate funding for their research. Adequate research funding compensates for the time faculty would have needed to write grants which could instead be used working on diversity and inclusion issues. Additional incentives should be created for senior faculty to be involved. Institutions need to help junior faculty so they can focus on research first, then teaching, then other activities after that. Hrabowski states plainly, “Do not sacrifice the research to build diversity programs. They will thank you on the way out without giving you tenure. The research is the most important.”

At the Science Philanthropy Alliance, we are committed to gathering philanthropists to learn about and to share best practices in grant-making with a lens on racial equity, diversity, and inclusion. We agree wholeheartedly that this is a systemic issue that everyone in the science community has the opportunity to solve—and that solving it is not only morally just, but scientifically necessary. Science may take place in a lab, but not in a vacuum; science works best when it fully reflects and includes the communities it serves, and the different perspectives that diverse scientists can bring. We hope you will join us in this effort. It is the foundation of our future.

For more information on diversity, equity and inclusion in science philanthropy, please contact:

The World Doesn’t Yet Know Enough to Beat the Coronavirus [via The Atlantic]

May 20, 2020 12:02 pm Published by Leave a comment

The united states and many other nations are launching a life-threatening experiment. They are rapidly and perhaps prematurely easing restrictions on businesses and social activity—even as the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, is still prevalent and much of the population remains susceptible to the disease it causes, COVID-19. The understandable desire to restore normal life quickly has raced ahead of the scientific knowledge necessary to do so safely. The result could be mortality rates that exceed even those occurring now, in the first wave of the pandemic.

Read more here.

Science Philanthropy Typically Requires Patience. Now Funders Have to Act Fast [via Inside Philanthropy]

May 7, 2020 1:26 pm Published by Leave a comment

“There has not been a large funding community around infectious diseases, except for the Gates Foundation and Wellcome Trust, maybe because it hasn’t felt urgent,” said Valerie Conn, president of the Science Philanthropy Alliance, an organization formed earlier this decade with a mission to give philanthropists the background they need to support the stately procession of basic science research.

Of course, that was before COVID-19. Now, it’s undeniably urgent. With millions sickened worldwide, many new and longtime philanthropists and foundations have turned their focus to the coronavirus, motivated by experts who say the only true solutions to this disease are likely to be medical cures and vaccines. As a result, the Science Philanthropy Alliance has had to pivot from its highly deliberate approach to offering more “quick and dirty” guidance for funders looking to plug right into a global health crisis.

Read more here.

WHY BASIC SCIENCE? [Alliance News]

May 5, 2020 12:44 pm Published by Leave a comment

Dear members and friends of the Science Philanthropy Alliance, 

Science has never been more important than it is right now during the COVID-19 pandemic. With the number of patients with COVID-19 increasing and the death toll mounting, philanthropists are stepping up to help in new and inspiring ways. Since early March, the Alliance has responded to the needs of the science philanthropy community by working closely with philanthropists to advise them on their COVID-19related science funding decisions.  

In my five years at the Science Philanthropy Alliance, my experience has been that most philanthropists and foundations stay true to their mission. Basic science research funders take the long view on impact. Whether studying bacteria in yeast or microscopic organisms in the ocean, it may be years or decades until new knowledge leads to significant impact on health or society. 

Fortunately the basic science engine that generates new knowledge was what prepared scientists to have the foundational knowledge needed to rapidly learn about this novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. Once the virus was genetically sequenced, scientists were able to use that knowledge to accelerate further research, data collection, and technology development that can lead to diagnostics, therapeutics, and, ultimately, a vaccine. None of this would be possible without basic science funders. 

Over the coming months, we will continue to work with philanthropists to accelerate their funding during this pandemic. We will also be listening and learning about such issues as, when the urgency is to help people today, to save lives now, how should our community respond? What basic science needs to happen now to enable vaccine development, diagnostics, and therapeutics? What information do funders need to feel confident about their funding decisions during a rapidly evolving crisis?  

To learn more about COVID-19-related fundable projects that have been reviewed by our Alliance science staff and senior science advisors, please contact our fellow Bishakha Mona or visit the Alliance COVID-19 Resource Hub

Stay home and stay healthy! 



Press Release: France Córdova announced Senior Science Advisor at Science Philanthropy Alliance [Alliance News]

May 5, 2020 2:29 am Published by Leave a comment


Palo Alto, California – May 5, 2020 – The Science Philanthropy Alliance (the Alliance) welcomes France A. Córdova, Ph.D., as senior science advisor.

In March, Dr. Cordova concluded a six-year term as director of the National Science Foundation. At NSF, she oversaw a pivot in strategy to spotlight big ideas with potentially transformative return on investment, including areas that touched on quantum mechanics, big data, the rules of life, artificial intelligence, multi-messenger astronomy, changes in the Arctic, and other areas on the forefront of scientific research.

France Córdova’s contributions in multi-spectrum research on x-ray and gamma ray sources and space-borne instrumentation have made her an internationally recognized astrophysicist.

Her distinguished career in science, engineering, and higher education spans more than three decades.

Córdova is president emerita of Purdue University, chancellor emerita of the University of California, Riverside, and was vice chancellor for research and professor of physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She has published more than 150 scientific papers and was honored as a Kilby Laureate, recognized for “significant contributions to society through science, technology, innovation, invention, and education.”

As the first woman and youngest person to serve as NASA’s chief scientist, Córdova represented NASA to the larger scientific community and infused the activities of the agency— including the International Space Station, then under construction—with the scientific goals of the broader community. She was awarded the agency’s highest honor, the Distinguished Service Medal.

Córdova also served as chair of the board of regents at the Smithsonian Institution and on the board of trustees of Mayo Clinic. She is the recipient of numerous honorary degrees and awards, including most recently the Kennedy-Lemass medal of Ireland.

“We are privileged to have Dr. Córdova join our team, particularly now during the COVID-19 crisis. Her experience in government and her academic and scientific leadership will help our members and the philanthropists we advise navigate the rapidly changing scientific landscape,” said Valerie Conn, president of the Alliance.

Córdova joins a team of senior science advisors at the Science Philanthropy Alliance. This team of esteemed scientist-leaders provide advice and guidance for philanthropists who wish to support fundamental research.

The mission of Science Philanthropy Alliance is to increase private support for basic scientific research by providing advice and learning opportunities for funders. By building a community of funders, the Alliance has emerged as the leading resource for basic science philanthropy, playing a critical role influencing new funds to support basic scientific knowledge—knowledge that is essential to the improvement of human health and welfare.

For more information, contact Julie Kohrt at

Click here for the announcement PDF.

Korean researchers unveil genome map of COVID-19 for 1st time [via Korean Biomedical Review]

April 10, 2020 11:37 am Published by Leave a comment

A group of Korean researchers has drawn a genome map for the first time by tracing how the virus related to COVID-19 evolves within an infected cell, the Institute for Basic Science (IBS) said Friday.

Several scientists in the world managed to sequence the SARS-CoV-2. However, the Korean research team has released a more comprehensive map to reveal the location and characteristics of the RNA modules caused by the transcription process.

Read more here

The Pandemic Shows Why the U.S. Must Invest in Public Research [via Scientific American]

April 7, 2020 10:11 am Published by Leave a comment

In the weeks to come, we’re about to relearn that old truth: necessity is the mother of invention. Researchers will work around-the-clock because of the world’s need for a cure for COVID-19. But it’s worth keeping a corollary thought in all of our minds: necessity may be the mother of invention, but curiosity and imagination are the parents of discovery.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it abundantly clear that the world now needs America to be curious—specifically, to continue to push the frontiers of discovery. We will, once again, need to marshal our curiosity to solve big, intractable problems. Though we face a current crisis, this sort of thing is in America’s DNA: we have always been able to commit ourselves to human endeavors in science and research that bring out our country’s best—and push humanity forward. We’re called to turn the page on America’s recent past and rediscover our powers of discovery.

Read more here

The 3 Ways Science Will Get Us Through The COVID-19 Pandemic [via Forbes]

April 7, 2020 10:09 am Published by Leave a comment

As of April 6, 2020, more than 1.3 million people worldwide have tested positive for COVID-19, with over 74,000 confirmed deaths so far. Those numbers are continuing to grow at an alarming rate, with over 70,000 new cases and 5,000 new deaths per day. However, there is a tremendous bright spot that remains undimmed: the power of our scientific knowledge to guide us through these difficult times.

We no longer live in an era where we have to rely on assumptions or superstitions to understand what’s occurring. We know what the novel coronavirus COVID-19 is. We know how it spreads through the human population. We know how to fight it, how to treat it, and how to minimize the death rate from it. It’s not only time to listen to what science tells us about it, but to understand the three ways a scientific world has enabled the best of humanity’s response to it.

Read more here

The only exit from this pandemic is through science. We must fund it [via The Globe and Mail]

April 7, 2020 10:01 am Published by Leave a comment

On the Government of Canada’s website there is a digital tally counter, showing the daily uptick in coronavirus cases and, sadly, the steadily rising death toll.

Such grim counts are replicated worldwide, logging the rise and spread of a global crisis the like of which has not been seen in 100 years.

More than 12,000 kilometres away another clock ticks, quietly, but expectantly toward, we hope, a moment of light in public health amidst otherwise dark and anxious times.

Read more here

Ten Weeks to Crush the Curve [via The New England Journal of Medicine]

April 1, 2020 10:43 am Published by Leave a comment

The President says we are at war with the coronavirus. It’s a war we should fight to win.

The economy is in the tank, and anywhere from thousands to more than a million American lives are in jeopardy. Most analyses of options and trade-offs assume that both the pandemic and the economic setback must play out over a period of many months for the pandemic and even longer for economic recovery. However, as the economists would say, there is a dominant option, one that simultaneously limits fatalities and gets the economy cranking again in a sustainable way.

That choice begins with a forceful, focused campaign to eradicate Covid-19 in the United States. The aim is not to flatten the curve; the goal is to crush the curve. China did this in Wuhan. We can do it across this country in 10 weeks.

Read more here

WEBINAR: COVID-19 Response: The Need for New Approaches and New Voices; Rita Allen Foundation Civic Science Webinar

March 24, 2020 9:53 am Published by Leave a comment

The Rita Allen Foundation is hosting the “COVID-19 Response: The Need for New Approaches and New Voices” webinar this Friday, March 27, 2020, at 12:00 PM EST.

You can register for the webinar here.

Please read the details about the webinar from the Rita Allen Foundation below:

We find ourselves in the midst of what could become the worst infectious disease outbreak of our time. More than ever, the nation and indeed the world needs scientists — both in the laboratory to conduct research on antivirals and vaccines, but also in civic life in order to inform the public and policy makers and to bring data and evidence to decision making.

We invite you to join a webinar to hear from civic society participants who are working to bring science into the public realm.

Ali Nouri of the Federation of American Scientists will talk about his partnership with NYUGovLab to develop a platform to provide science-based answers to the public’s questions about coronavirus. He will also discuss the work of FAS to crowdsource science advice for members of the US Congress.

We will also be joined by one of the participants of a new initiative — the New Voices of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and MedicineFrances Colon, who will discuss the group’s efforts to help make the Academies respond faster and adapt to today’s challenges. The group has embarked on a set of projects from creating a chatbot to answer the public’s questions on covid19, to using story-telling as a way to get young people to get interested in STEM.

Finally, we will hear from Holly Mayton, co-founder of the National Science Policy Network — early career scientists and engineers who recognize the importance of their seat at the policy table. She will discuss the networks’ efforts to organize and activate the science community to help inform the public and policy makers.

Speakers include:
Adam Jones, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and Karen Andrade, SciencePhilanthropy Alliance Civic Science Fellow, moderators
Ali Nouri, President, Federation of American Scientists
Frances Colon, CEO and President, Jasperi Consulting; participant of the New Voices of the National Academy of the Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
Holly Mayton, Co-founder, National Science Policy Network

How Philanthropists are Tackling COVID-19 [via Barron’s Penta]

March 19, 2020 10:51 am Published by Leave a comment

The Open Philanthropy Project granted US$17.5 million last year to Sherlock Biosciences, a startup firm in Cambridge, Mass., that’s developing quick, inexpensive tools for diagnosing viruses…

That donors are stepping up to give to scientific research as well as to human services on the front lines of the virus is evident to Valerie Conn, president of the Science Philanthropy Alliance in Palo Alto, Calif.., which was formed about eight years ago by a group of foundations concerned about federal cutbacks to basic scientific research.

Conn has been directing many of them to the Therapeutics Accelerator and to a fund run by the World Health Organization, as well as to the fundamental research programs at local universities and medical centers, many of which are doing research to viral pandemics, she says.

Read more here

Group run by former Google CEO to hold meeting with VCs, philanthropists about ways to fight coronavirus [via CNBC]

March 18, 2020 9:00 am Published by Leave a comment

A group founded by the former CEO and executive chairman of Google is huddling with venture capitalists to discuss how they can quickly use their resources to help fight the coronavirus…

Eric Braverman, CEO of Schmidt Futures, will lead the call along with and Kumar Garg, head of partnerships at Schmidt Futures, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter. The call will also include representatives of, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Sergey Brin Family Foundation, the Bridgespan Group, the Science Philanthropy Alliance, the National Science Foundation and many others, the people said.

Read more here