Author Archives for Jessica Buterbaugh

Yale University Awards Honorary Degree to Alliance President France A. Córdova

May 23, 2023 9:00 am Published by Leave a comment
Dr. France A. Córdova, president of Science Philanthropy Alliance, was awarded a honorary Doctor of Science degree from Yale University.

NEW HAVEN, CT Yale University awarded an honorary Doctor of Science degree to Dr. France A. Córdova, president of the Science Philanthropy Alliance, during its commencement ceremony held May 22, 2023. Dr. Córdova is a prominent astrophysicist and a former director of the National Science Foundation, NASA’s chief scientist, and president of Purdue University.

Yale University President Peter Salovey praised Dr. Córdova’s achievements and contributions to scientific progress and society in his citation: “Stellar scientist and administrator, the earth and heavens rejoice as we recognize you with this Doctor of Science degree.”

“I am grateful to Yale University for this honor. Advancing discovery science through visionary philanthropy is my passion and purpose. It is a privilege to lead and work with others who share this vision. Thank you to the Yale University Board of Trustees for this recognition,” Dr. Córdova said.

Yale University has been awarding honorary degrees since 1702 to recognize exemplary contributions to the common good. The recipients inspire the graduates to aspire to excellence and to value creativity, curiosity, discipline, integrity, and public service.

For more details on Dr. Córdova’s honorary degree, visit Yale University’s website:

Alliance President Congratulates Dr. Edna Adan Ismail on winning 2023 Templeton Prize

May 22, 2023 7:25 pm Published by Leave a comment

“On behalf of the Science Philanthropy Alliance, I congratulate Dr. Edna Adan Ismail on winning the 2023 Templeton Prize. This prestigious honor is incredibly well-deserved and reflects her dedication to improving the lives of thousands of women and girls in East Africa and beyond. Edna is a nurse-midwife, healthcare advocate, and founder of the Edna Adan University and Edna Adan Hospital that have reduced maternal mortality across Somaliland.

Dr. Edna Adan Ismail is an excellent choice because she has a compelling life story of selfless service to others in the face of great challenges, successfully drawing upon her health care background as a nurse. Dr. Edna Adan Ismail’s life and work are tremendous examples of the power of science in affirming the dignity of all women and helping them to flourish physically and spiritually.

Dr. France Córdova, Science Philanthropy President and a 2023 Templeton Prize Judge



Established in 1972, the Templeton Prize is one of the world’s largest annual individual awards. It is given to honor individuals whose exemplary achievements advance Sir John Templeton’s philanthropic vision: harnessing the power of the sciences to explore the deepest questions of the universe and humankind’s place and purpose within it. Currently valued at £1.1 million GBP, the award is adjusted periodically so it always exceeds the value of the Nobel Prize. Winners have come from a wide range of faiths, fields, and geographies, and have included Nobel Prize winners, philosophers, theoretical physicists, and one canonized saint. The Templeton Prize is awarded by the three Templeton philanthropies: the John Templeton Foundation, based in West Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, and by the Templeton World Charity Foundation and Templeton Religion Trust, based in Nassau, The Bahamas. To learn more, visit

Alliance President France A. Córdova takes part in AAAS Inaugural Mani L. Bhaumik Breakthrough of the Year Award Presentation, Co-moderates Fireside Chat

May 15, 2023 7:58 am Published by Leave a comment

Washington, D.C. – Science Philanthropy Alliance President Dr. France A. Córdova recently participated in the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s (AAAS) Inaugural Mani L. Bhaumik Breakthrough of the Year Award Presentation and Fireside Chat held at the AAAS Washington, D.C. headquarters on May 3, 2023. The award honored three NASA luminaries: Major General Charles Frank Bolden Jr., USMC (Ret), John Mather, senior project scientist of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) since 1995, and Bill Ochs, JWST project manager from 2011 through the telescope’s launch.

Dr. Córdova co-moderated the Fireside Chat along with Dr. Holden Thorp, Editor in Chief of the Science family of journals, leading a discussion with award winners Bolden, Mather, and Ochs about their experiences with the JWST project.

Major General Charles Frank Bolden Jr., USMC (Ret), and Science Philanthropy Alliance President Dr. France A. Córdova. Photo credit: Event

As noted in the AAAS announcement, the award selection committee sought to acknowledge not only the winners’ contributions but also the teams they inspired whose collective work has provided a completely different view of the universe.

“The James Webb Space Telescope was a transformative project that opened a window to the universe’s origins and strengthened our connection to the cosmos. This groundbreaking effort was a triumph of discovery science, engineering, teamwork, and leadership. I was delighted to celebrate these three outstanding pioneers,” said Dr. Córdova.

Dr. Córdova previously served as NASA’s chief scientist, representing NASA to the larger scientific community. She was the youngest person and first woman to serve as NASA’s chief scientist and was awarded the agency’s highest honor, the Distinguished Service Medal.

Founded in 2013, the Science Philanthropy Alliance works to advance scientific discovery through visionary philanthropy. By providing advising services for philanthropists, foundations, and platforms that catalyze connection, awareness, and learning, the Alliance strengthens philanthropic support for science to make it more impactful and effective in advancing scientific discovery that benefits society and the planet. Discover more at

Seven researchers named recipients of 2023 Brown Investigator Award

May 1, 2023 8:00 am Published by Leave a comment

The Brown Science Foundation today announced seven recipients of the annual Brown Investigator Award. The award recognizes curiosity-driven basic research in chemistry and physics and supports investigators’ research with up to $2 million over five years to their respective universities. Each winner was nominated by their institution and chosen from a candidate pool of mid-career scientists at top-rated research universities.

This year’s recipients are:

  • Columbia University – Cory Dean, Professor of Physics
  • Johns Hopkins University – N. Peter Armitage, Professor
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology – Mircea Dincă, Professor of Chemistry and W. M. Keck Professor of Energy
  • The Ohio State University – David A. Nagib, Miller Professor in Organic Chemistry
  • UC Berkley – Holger Mueller, Professor
  • UC Los Angeles – Anastassia Alexandrova, Professor and Vice Chair for Undergraduate Education
  • University of Washington – Mark Rudner, Associate Professor of Physics

“The scientists receiving the 2023 Brown Investigator Award are path-breaking researchers who have developed innovative approaches to address fundamental questions in the physical sciences,” said France Córdova, president of Science Philanthropy Alliance. “I know I speak for the Foundation’s eponymous founder when I say we can’t wait to see the discoveries they will make and how their careers will evolve.”

The Brown Science Foundation, a Science Philanthropy Alliance member, is dedicated to the belief that scientific discovery is a driving force in the improvement of the human condition. Established in 1992 by Ross M. Brown, the foundation announced its invitation-only Brown Investigator Award program in 2020 with plans to make eight awards annually by 2025. The program supports the often-overlooked resource of mid-career physics and chemistry researchers in the U.S.

Alliance President Honors the Late Gordon Moore

March 28, 2023 4:13 am Published by Leave a comment
Copyright 2010 The Henry Ford. Photographer, Michelle Andonian

“The Science Philanthropy Alliance is saddened to learn of the passing of Gordon Moore. He was a visionary and innovator, inspiring generations of scientists. Gordon Moore was a generous philanthropist who fostered scientific research. Through the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, he supported the mission of the Alliance to advance science through visionary philanthropy. We have been privileged to work closely with Harvey Fineberg, president of the Moore Foundation, who serves as board chair for the Alliance. We extend our condolences to Gordon’s family, friends and colleagues as together we mourn his loss and celebrate his legacy.” – France Córdova, President, Science Philanthropy Alliance

Gordon Moore, co-founder and former chairman of Intel Corporation, passed away on March 24, 2023. In 2001, he and his wife established the Betty and Gordon Moore Foundation to provide philanthropic support to advance scientific discovery and environmental conservation and preservation, and improve patient care. To learn more about the Betty and Gordon Moore Foundation, please visit their website.

Research Institutions Meeting Highlights

March 23, 2023 5:59 pm Published by Leave a comment

On March 8-9, 2023, the Science Philanthropy Alliance welcomed over 250 attendees from nearly 140 research institutions to a virtual Research Institutions Meeting, aligned with our strategic plan goals of fostering partnerships and facilitating shared learning and collaboration. We hope the highlights shared below and the recordings and resources available on the event landing page enable you to engage with the thought-provoking conversations that spanned this two-day event, and that you feel inspired to think differently about what it can look like to support researchers and engage with foundations and philanthropic organizations to advance scientific discovery.

Inside philanthropy

The first day of the meeting took us inside the thought processes of philanthropic foundations. After an opening presentation about the Science Philanthropy Alliance, the agenda featured two panel sessions with member foundation presidents followed by Q&A breakout sessions.

Why do philanthropic funders support discovery science?

In this session, moderated by the Alliance’s Rachel Jackson, Maria Pellegrini (W. M. Keck Foundation) spoke to the unique value philanthropy can bring. “What foundations can do is take these big risks and look for gaps that the federal system isn’t covering,” she said, adding that foundations can seek things that are “a whole different way of thinking about something.” Dan Linzer (Research Corporation for Science Advancement) emphasized that foundations are well positioned to bring people together across institutions and across disciplines to realize “the kind of inclusive environment that we want to create for science today.” That work can happen across long time scales, David Spergel (Simons Foundation) emphasized, and without fear of failure – or maybe in encouragement of it: “I like to tell our grants officers that if most of our projects are achieving their goals, that’s bad. We’re not being ambitious enough.” Panelists spoke to how funding discovery science can promote a collaborative science culture.

How do foundations determine their priorities?

These themes of what foundations have to offer were echoed by the speakers in our second panel. Harvey Fineberg, president of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and chair of the Alliance’s Advisory Board, was joined by three fellow Advisory Board members to discuss how their organizations establish funding priorities. Caroline Montojo described that she joined the Dana Foundation at an inflection point. She spoke about how the foundation has assessed areas where private funding can have a unique impact relative to federal funding. Adam Falk similarly highlighted the idea of finding a niche as a core strategy that goes back to the beginning of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The discussion frequently returned to values, and Lou Muglia emphasized how diversity is a priority at all levels of the Burroughs Wellcome Fund.

When asked to share a piece of advice for universities or researchers seeking philanthropic support, the panelists emphasized the importance of bringing in new voices as collaborators, having bi-directional idea exchanges that scientific societies can facilitate, and being unafraid to reach out to program officers who enjoy connecting with the researchers they support.


Intersectional philanthropy

The second day of the meeting featured four panels focused on philanthropy’s intersection with equity, institutional engagement, society, and science communication.

How are philanthropic funders promoting equity in science?

In a panel moderated by Alliance External Science Advisor Shirley Tilghman, three foundation program directors pulled back the curtain on philanthropic funders’ ongoing efforts to promote equity in science. Lorelle Espinosa (Alfred P. Sloan Foundation) discussed how, though the Sloan Foundation has had a commitment to gender and racial equity for decades, it remains challenging to ensure that the work doesn’t end up siloed. “Our understanding of the problem of underrepresentation in STEM is also ongoing, for all of us, including the most promising solutions,” she said, adding that foundations have only recently begun the critical work of understanding who they support, on both a researcher and institution level. At the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, an explicit focus on DEI has come with a change in leadership, and Isaac Agbeshie-Noye spoke to their efforts to design equity-centered partnerships that leverage the strengths of institutions.

The idea that leadership is needed to operationalize DEI commitments was echoed by Cyndi Atherton, who has led the Science Program at the Heising-Simons Foundation through a period of program redesign motivated by lack of representation in their own programs. “Diversity is a leadership problem,” she said, “and until leadership takes hold of it and takes accountability for change, you don’t see lasting and sustainable change.” All panelists are thinking about the potential impact of upcoming Supreme Court decisions on diversity programs within higher education, and encourage foundations to work with their grantees to prepare for different outcomes.

How can institutions position themselves for science philanthropy?

The second panel of the day, moderated by Alliance External Science Advisor Margaret Leinen, provided an opportunity for attendees to hear from university leaders about their experiences engaging with philanthropy. “It’s very much of a team effort,” said Mari Ostendorf, Vice Provost of Research at the University of Washington, of the approach to positioning faculty to attract philanthropic interest. “It’s the faculty who have the great ideas that funders will get excited about…but we want to help them understand donor interest.” She highlighted the role that development staff play in keeping track of the bigger picture, a sentiment echoed by Jonelle Bradshaw de Herndanez, who serves as Research Assistant Professor and Executive Director of Foundation Relations at the University of Texas at Austin. She encouraged people working in development to deploy the “superpower of the subject-matter curious” and serve as a translator between faculty, leadership, and foundations to help make the right matches. This comes, she says, from understanding your local culture, the mission and value of your institution, and what your faculty can bring.


Helene Gayle, who serves as president of Spelman College, agreed that the relationship between researchers and the development office within an institution “has to be seen as a partnership,” adding that this works best when funders see themselves as part of the partnership, as well. Although it can take time to build a partnership, this can be a satisfying journey with a better end result.

How are philanthropic funders thinking about science and society?

“We see a lot of things that we would consider scientific issues turned into very polarized political issues,” moderator and Alliance External Science Advisor Fleming Crim mused mid-way through the third panel of the day, a conversation with the leaders of three organizations with a long history of explicitly supporting work on the intersection of science and society. Those organizations are confronting an increasingly polarized environment. “I think there are a lot of scientists who think that ‘all I’m doing is asking descriptive questions about the world and answering them’… That might be true in a lab, but it’s not true of the science enterprise,” said Sam Gill (Doris Duke Foundation), highlighting that science – and support of science – is occurring in the context of a society and its values.

“There’s not one size fits all” for that context, Matthew Walhout (John Templeton Foundation) emphasized, saying that a constant theme for their organization is that they have to ask where people are starting and what perspective they bring. Despite connection points, though, panelists spoke to the difficulty of building trust across communities that are suspicious of each other. “Change moves at the speed of trust,” Elizabeth Christopherson (Rita Allen Foundation) added, and foundations are looking to interdisciplinary teams and considering equity and inclusion as they try to support science in a climate of widespread mistrust.

How are philanthropic funders advancing science communication?

Alliance External Science Advisor Tom Cech served as the final moderator of the day, leading a two-pronged discussion around public engagement in science and engaging potential donors through science communication. “Often we say ‘the public,’ but lawmakers, librarians, GP assistants, they’re all the public, right?… Talking about your work to anybody is an important skill to have,” Ivvet Modinou (Simons Foundation) said, noting how skills built within a university context translate outward and the importance of universities understanding that value. Claire Pomeroy (Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation) challenged institutions to take the time to identify the science communication programs already hard at work within their institutions. Do they provide opportunities for partnership, improvement, or promotion to donors?

Conversations around the societal context for research continued in this final panel. Ivvet highlighted community-led motivations for research questions, and alternative funding models that support community partners first, while Brooke Smith (Kavli Foundation) spoke to what makes an engaged institution, including challenging the paradigm that universities do research separate from the world. All panelists highlighted how investment in the value of communication must include top-down, with “leading by example.”

Leaders at engaged institutions can also help researchers understand how to engage with foundations, something Brooke described also as a bi-directional sharing opportunity. “Spend some time having a conversation, not just talking at us about what you want to fund – to learn…what is Kavli interested in? What are the things, and why is that? The best thing about that true engagement is we both learn.”


Institutional priorities and the road ahead

There were some common themes in the dozens of questions submitted and discussed prior to and throughout the meeting. Institutions want to know how to spread the wealth – how to attract philanthropic support, and how to efficiently find information about opportunities to engage with foundations.

Foundations want to be a source of support, and we heard how deeply our attendees at this meeting wanted to understand how to engage with their teams. The Alliance, as part of its new strategic plan, will be working to aggregate information about open funding opportunities in ways that make it easier for research institutions to find – just one of the many future directions we hope will stem from this productive meeting.

Alliance to host virtual event: Insights into Science Philanthropy (March 8-9, 2023)

February 2, 2023 11:49 am Published by Leave a comment

The Science Philanthropy Alliance is pleased to host a two-day virtual meeting to share insights about science philanthropy with the research community on March 8 and 9, 2023, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. PST (12 p.m. to 4 p.m. EST) on both days. The program will feature panels and breakout sessions with leaders of philanthropic organizations in the Science Philanthropy Alliance’s membership as well as the Alliance’s external science advisors and philanthropic advisors and additional research institution representatives. Topics will include why philanthropists support discovery science; how foundations leaders determine their priorities; how philanthropies are promoting equity in science; how institutions can position themselves for science philanthropy; how philanthropic funders are thinking about science and society; and how philanthropies are advancing science communication.

While attendance is limited to two research and development leaders per institution, the recorded sessions will be distributed broadly. Please sign up here to request an invitation or the recording. Click here to access the event’s agenda.

Science philanthropy engagement with minority-serving institutions: The why, how, and what

January 20, 2023 8:00 am Published by Leave a comment

Alignment of Science Philanthropy with Minority-Serving Institutions

While there are as many motivations to support scientific research as there are philanthropists, one that is nearly universal is the desire to make an impact. France Córdova, president of the Science Philanthropy Alliance, recently noted, “When I talk with foundation heads, the word most frequently used is ‘impact’—they want their investments to make a difference.” This desire for impact leads many science philanthropists, especially those interested in supporting basic science, toward underexplored paths within the research landscape. Beyond the aim to fill gaps in specific research topics or fields of study, though, there remains an underexplored, underfunded opportunity to make an impact by supporting Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs).

The category of MSIs includes a variety of institution types, including public and private, rural, urban, and suburban. Included in that are many research institutions—both emerging and well-established—that confer doctoral degrees in the STEM fields. As research enterprises increasingly understand that diversity, equity, and inclusiveness can catalyze scientific discovery and innovation, MSIs offer philanthropists an opportunity that aligns well with the kind of long-term, outsized impact that so many seek.

At the Alliance, a shared interest group was created in response to the growing interests of philanthropic science funders to support underrepresented groups in STEM as well as culture change in scientific research enterprises. As of September 2022, the group has 40 members representing 20 different organizations. Similar types of groups have also emerged within other funder collaboratives, including at the Health Research Alliance and Open Research Funders Group.

Aligned with this interest by many funders to foster more diverse talent and environments, MSIs have broad reach and proven effectiveness in supporting these efforts. The National Academies’ 2019 consensus report on MSIs showed that they enroll 30 percent of all undergraduates in the U.S. in higher education, producing one-fifth of the nation’s STEM bachelor’s degrees, and train many that go on to graduate and start successful careers. Lorelle Espinosa, program director at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and co-chair of the consensus report, underscores the intentionality of MSIs. She stresses that such intentionality “drives the creation of programs, practices, and policies that are tailored to recognize and address student differences across multiple dimensions: academic, financial, social, and with cultural mindfulness.” MSIs’ approaches can serve as a model to engage, train, and work with diverse individuals who have STEM aspirations.

Similarly, many philanthropic science funders have priorities in promoting scientific outreach and engagement that fit well with the strengths of MSIs. Geared toward building the public’s engagement with, understanding of, and trust in science, the Alliance is ideally situated to see trends forming in this area and has seen a growing rise in the number of funders prioritizing this type of grantmaking alongside more traditional research funding. In 2019, six philanthropic organizations started the Science in Society Funder Collaborative with strong interests in supporting this work at the intersection of science and society. From those initial six organizations, the network has grown to 12 science funders supporting a network of leaders directly working in this space.

For their part, MSIs have established trust with the communities they serve, according to Victor McCrary, vice president for research at the University of the District of Columbia—one of 107 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs)—and vice chair of the National Science Board. As such, MSIs are excellent thought partners to advance scientific outreach and engagement, especially for challenges, like infectious diseases, climate change, renewable energy, and water/food security, facing their communities. McCrary notes that many of the public health problems we saw during the COVID-19 pandemic came down to “a question of trust and connection to the community.” With trust, communities are more likely to believe research outputs and the recommendations coming from research institutions to guide their understanding of, engagement with, and response to scientific issues.

Despite the strong alignment between MSIs and philanthropy MSIs receive only limited philanthropic funding. Twyla Baker, president of Neuta Hidatsa Sahnish College, the tribally-chartered college of the Three Affiliated Tribes, reinforces this discrepancy from the perspective of Native American organizations: “[These indigenous organizations] across the board of different issues receive only 0.4% of philanthropic dollars.”

“[MSIs] are used to stretching a dollar, but [they] would rather not,” says Adele de la Torre, the first woman and first Latina to serve as a permanently appointed president of San Diego State University, a Hispanic-serving Institution (HSI).

Tips for Philanthropic Engagement with MSIs

To better understand this disparity and how science philanthropy can better-support MSIs, in December 2021 the Alliance convened a roundtable discussion with philanthropic funders and MSI leaders. The perspectives of Baker, de la Torre, and McCrary provided meaningful insights into the MSIs they represent and beyond.

With more than 10 years of experience in science philanthropy, Cyndi Atherton, director of the science program at the Heising-Simons Foundation, asked what fellow science philanthropic funders should keep in mind when engaging with MSIs.

“There is an enormous disconnect [between funders and the environments they seek to influence]—it is a problem but also presents itself as an opportunity,” said Baker. Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs) protect the interests of their community. For research, it’s about asking, “What does the community like to happen, as opposed to bringing in issues for the community?”

“There is an enormous disconnect [between funders and the environments they seek to influence]—it is a problem but also presents itself as an opportunity.”
Twyla Baker, President,
Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College

De la Torre noted, “We are often chasing dollars that do not fit…due to metrics (of evaluation) that only fit the most elite research institutions. Often, the financial capacity of the institution to ‘match’ funds is weighted in such a way as to quietly disqualify most MSIs. That’s an artifact of a different time, where the model of federal funding privileged access to research funds to larger public and Ivy League institutions.” De la Torre recommended developing RFPs where MSIs “would be on an equal footing, or even provided additional consideration given the commitment and opportunities they will provide to their diverse faculty and student populations.”

McCrary stressed the importance of viewing these relationships as more “transformational than transactional,” requiring a mindset change among science funders. He highlighted the importance of coming into these conversations without condescension but as equals, and encourages funders to do weekend visits to understand MSIs and what they offer.

Delving into the unique role of philanthropy in the funding landscape, another question focused on what funding gaps would be best suited for philanthropy to support. De la Torre suggested focusing on endowments to support emerging private-public partnerships (P3s) in MSIs. According to de la Torre, supporting this intersection is important not only for funding critical projects when and where state dollars are not available, but also for advancing research into practice and its applications. This would also facilitate workforce development in the communities the MSIs serve, which would further stimulate economic development and greater wealth in historically underserved communities. Despite this multiplied impact, “no one is funding these types of MSI projects or recognizing the true levels of their economic impact,” said de la Torre.

Baker echoed de la Torre’s comment on the importance of supporting the workforce in MSIs. Because of their often-rural settings, Baker shared that it can be difficult to bring in people to work at tribal colleges. This circumstance and their already limited staff hinder their ability to respond to funding opportunities when they arise. Baker shared that when these opportunities come her way, she often asks if there is money or resources to do this work.

Building capacity was a trend across the responses during the conversation—McCrary shared that funding “endowed research chairs and research administration supplemental grants” would be unique for philanthropy. He also highlighted the importance of engaging with minority technical organizations, such as the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics (SACNAS) and Native Americans in Sciences and the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers (NOBCChE), which help keep students in STEM academic programs.

Other philanthropic funders were curious about the characteristics of a successful partnership between MSIs and other research institutions. De la Torre stressed that this is a deeply rooted issue that requires system-level solutions and approaches. She urged funders to pay close attention to how resources are distributed, observing that “even in the best partnerships, there is inequity.” All panelists highlighted the importance of sustained relationships.

Isaac Agbeshie-Noye, director of diversity, equity, and inclusion at Howard Hughes Medical Institute, asked what sustainability looks or feels like in terms of relationships between science philanthropic funders and MSIs. Baker thought of a 20–25-year research project that looks at traditional foods that exist on the reservation. “[This project] isn’t just about culture but is also relevant to how we live and threats to food structures,” said Baker, reinforcing the importance of listening to the research directions of MSIs and the need for long-term engagement.

“I realize it’s not your job to teach the rest of the world,” Atherton concluded, “but I also want to acknowledge how useful it is for us to hear you and to begin to learn on our own what we need to be doing and doing better.”

“[Minority-serving institutions] are often chasing dollars that do not fit…due to metrics [of evaluation] that only fit the most elite research institutions. Often, the financial capacity of the institution to ‘match’ funds is weighted in such a way as to quietly disqualify most MSIs.”
— Adela de la Torre, President, San Diego State University

Building the Foundation for Sustained Philanthropic Engagement with MSIs

Although the relationship between science philanthropy and MSIs is still evolving, the Alliance has seen a growing number of examples in recent years of philanthropists advancing the roles of scientific enterprises by engaging with and supporting these important institutions.

For example, with an understanding of the resource limitations in MSIs, the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, is working to form long-lasting partnerships with HBCUs, HSIs, and TCUs and to support their research capacity. Toward this goal, they recently made a commitment to grant at least 20 percent of their funding to underserved institutions, which include MSIs.

The Simons Foundation, on the other hand, is also bolstering others’ established relationships with MSIs. For example, the foundation has partnered with the Morehouse School of Medicine to support Morehouse’s summer undergraduate research program at Harvard University. Inspired by a recent visit to Spelman College, the foundation also committed $5.7 million to faculty there to address the high teaching loads often observed in HBCUs.

Finally, the Sloan Foundation created a grantmaking area specifically designed to harness the great talent and undergraduate diversity at MSIs. The Creating Equitable Pathways to STEM Graduate Education initiative supports educational pathways for Black, Indigenous, and Latinx/a/o students from MSIs to enroll in STEM graduate programs through innovative partnerships. The program’s inaugural investment of $5 million in 2021 funded 20 grants across 66 partner institutions. One such grant between Northern Arizona University and their partners, Diné College and Northern Arizona University-Yuma, aims to increase the number of Indigenous and Latinx/a/o students in STEM graduate programs.

Many philanthropic funders are developing blueprints to increase their systemic engagement with and support for MSIs in transformative and sustained ways. At the Alliance, we are enthusiastic to support this vision and the work of new and established science philanthropic funders to further advance scientific research and impact.


To download a copy of this report, click here.

Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation award $1.25M grants to experimental physicists

October 27, 2022 6:17 pm Published by Leave a comment

Sixteen researchers from 14 universities across the U.S. have been named as the first cohort of experimental physicists to receive funding from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. The new initiative awards $1.25 million dollars to each researcher to advance scientific inquiry in experimental physics. Read more about the recipients and the award on the Foundation’s website.

Schmidt Futures to fund $148M AI research initiative

October 26, 2022 6:48 am Published by Leave a comment

Schmidt Futures, a Science Philanthropy Alliance benefactor, have launched a $148 million initiative that will fund post-doctoral research in artificial intelligence to increase scale of interdisciplinary research across STEM fields. Learn more about The Eric and Wendy Schmidt AI in Science Postdoctoral Fellowship program and the impact it will have on the future of science research here.

Podcast highlights importance of environmental philanthropy

October 19, 2022 7:26 pm Published by Leave a comment

On the most recent episode of Resources Radio podcast, Evan Michelson, program director at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, spoke to host Kristin Hayes about the importance of philanthropy on environmental research. Click here to listen to the full episode – A Funder’s View on Energy and the Environment – and learn more about why science philanthropy matters.

Alliance President France A. Córdova speaks at Science Summit at UNGA

October 6, 2022 6:30 pm Published by Leave a comment

Science Philanthropy Alliance President France A. Córdova recently served as a keynote speaker at the Science Summit at United Nations General Assembly held September 13-30 in New York City.  In her address titled “International collaboration for scientific discovery and sustainable development,” Córdova highlighted philanthropy as an integral part of scientific discovery and the critical role it plays in advancing science across the globe. Included below is a transcript of her address.


International Collaboration for Scientific Discovery and Sustainable Development

“There are three things that to me are remarkable about the UN Sustainability Goals. One is that they exist at all – a tribute to leadership and foresight of the 193 UN member states that adopted them in 2015. A second is that as I review the list of goals, I am struck that the word science is not mentioned explicitly in any of them, yet to achieve any one of the goals requires fundamental scientific research. And third, none can be achieved without the nations of the world coming together with concrete plans – and dedicated people – to address them. This is at the heart of Sustainable Development Goal #17.  

In my remarks I will elaborate on these observations: I will give examples of how scientific research is addressing some of these goals and how this is being done in an international context. Since I presently head an alliance of philanthropic foundations whose mission is to advance discovery research, I will emphasize the contributions of philanthropy to addressing the UN sustainability goals by investing in scientific research.

 Let me first give some background I bring to this discussion. I have served as president or chancellor of two U.S. universities, both having broad international programs, encouraging collaboration and experiential learning abroad. I have served in three federal science agencies: the National Science Foundation, NASA, and a Department of Energy Laboratory – often at the behest of five US presidents and the U.S. Senate. In my positions I have worked in an international science sphere. I have seen at close hand the power that science can have when applied to pressing world problems.

I’ll give three examples. As President of Purdue University, I accompanied faculty member and World Food Prize winner Gebisa Ejecta to the country of his origin, Ethiopia, to meet with the presidents of ten Ethiopian universities and talk to them about development of faculty, including faculty exchanges. Dr. Ejecta won his prize by increasing by five-fold the yield of sorghum, a principal grain of sub-Saharan Africa. His basic scientific research into Africa’s hunger has had far-reaching results for millions of Africans.  

Second, as NASA’s Chief Scientist, its first woman in that position, I accompanied the head of NASA on his frequent trips to Congress to persuade our elected representatives to vote in favor of an International Space Station. Once approved for funding, I led NASA’s science utilization team. The basic research to both build the ISS and utilize it for science in a global context have yielded scientific discoveries. Significantly, the ISS has demonstrated the power and promise of international collaboration.

“I have seen at close hand the power that science
can have when applied to pressing world problems.”

My third example is that as Director of NSF I represented the US at significant international meetings – including G7 science meetings on, for example, climate change. I also partnered with more than 60 international heads of science agencies to promote and sustain the Global Research Council, which has developed policy guidance on many issues related to the conduct of science.  

These examples showed me that science can make a significant impact on both discovery and policy when broadened to include an international approach.

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences recognized this when it launched its initiative five years ago called “Challenges for International Scientific Partnerships.” The initiative, supported with funding from several philanthropic foundations, has resulted in three reports. The first report focused on principles for international engagement and the second report focused on international collaboration on large-scale science initiatives. Only one week ago, the Science Philanthropy Alliance, which I head, was pleased to co-sponsor with the Academy a discussion of its third and final report, with foundation heads and others attending. The theme of that report was “Global Connections: Emerging Science Partners.” Its content spoke to the final UN Sustainability Goal, Partnerships, with an emphasis on partnerships with low and lower middle-income countries, as defined by the World Bank (or “least developed” as identified by the UN).

In the words of Academy president David Oxtoby, “…our country must fully participate in all scientific endeavors, including collaborations with talent in all parts of the world, and promote a just and equitable society.” These words echo other UN sustainability goals for equity, as well as peace, justice, and strong institutions.

International research partnerships can take on many forms. As noted in the Academy’s recent report, they are meant to “promote scientific advancement, strengthen global S&T capacity, and enhance global understanding and science diplomacy.” Here are some examples that surfaced from our discussion last week, and other examples from our experience with philanthropies…

As a first example, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation forms international partnerships that foster innovation to solve global health and development problems through its Discovery and Translational sciences program. The Gates Foundation launched its first Grand Challenge in Global Health as an open call for proposals in 2003, and since then, the Grand Challenges platform has been expanded to source innovators around the world to address many topics in global health and development, often with multiple international funding partners. Each Grand Challenge builds a grant program that facilitates collaboration among researchers and implementors across projects for accelerated impact.

In our discussion last week, which focused on funding discovery science in Africa, the Gates Foundation highlighted the Grand Challenges Africa initiative, which was created in 2015 as a partnership framework to jointly launch challenges to support African investigators. Grand Challenges Africa works in partnership with the African Union Development Agency – New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) with support from the Gates Foundation and other funders around the world to promote Africa-led scientific innovations to help countries better achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. The Drug Discovery program, for example, has created a network of researchers across the African continent as part of a partnership between Switzerland’s Medicines for Malaria Venture and the University of Cape Town Drug Discovery & Development Centre. Similar Grand Challenge partnership frameworks have been established elsewhere, such as in India and Brazil. Globally, the network of Grand Challenges funders has now awarded nearly 3,600 grants to investigators in 117 countries.

As a second example, the Rockefeller Foundation has a long history of funding agricultural research to support sustainable development. As described in the Academy’s Global Connections report, the Rockefeller Foundation launched the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines in the early 20th century, and this Institute helped prevent widespread famine in Asia following the end of World War II. Today, it is part of a network of 15 independent nonprofit research centers around the globe that are part of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), and it continues to support research to promote food security internationally through innovative agricultural research.

“… science can make a significant impact on both discovery and policy when broadened to include an international approach.”

More recently, in May 2022 the Rockefeller Foundation launched a new food science funding partnership – the Periodic Table of Food Initiative. Recognizing that only a small percentage of the known food biochemicals are described in current food composition databases, this collaborative initiative provides tools and infrastructure for the global community to catalog the biochemical composition of the world’s food supply. The vision for this initiative is to overcome society’s greatest food challenges through data-driven solutions for the improvement of human and planetary health. The initiative takes a sustainable food systems approach to understanding the drivers of food composition, collecting metadata on environmental, agricultural, social, and economic variables that impact food composition. The Periodic Table of Food Initiative is building a global ecosystem of Centers of Excellence on each continent to drive research and innovation, lead capacity strengthening, and champion the translation of science. Further, the initiative seeks to partner with government research institutions as National Lab Partners to integrate food composition analysis into ongoing public health and agricultural work, contributing to several of the Sustainable Development Goals.

My last example is the Bertarelli Program in Marine Science, a collaborative program that brings together scientists from around the world to work in the Indian Ocean. Through this program, the Bertarelli Foundation provides long-term funding to advance marine science that can be applied to conservation, directly addressing Sustainable Development Goal #14 (Life Below Water) and contributing to several others. This work began in 2010, when the British Government, with the help of the Bertarelli Foundation, declared the creation of the world’s largest “fully no take” marine protected area in a mostly uninhabited region of the British Indian Ocean Territory. Recognizing the value of this marine protected area for scientific discovery, in 2013 the Bertarelli Foundation convened an international and interdisciplinary group of scientists to develop a coordinated approach to scientific research in the region.

The first phase of the Bertarelli Marine Science Program, established in 2017, has transformed our understanding of the benefits of large marine protected areas for ocean conservation and ecosystem health. Its research themes include coral reef resilience, sentinel species research, translating science into marine protected area management, and science communication. Now in its second phase and in partnership with another philanthropic funder, the Bertarelli Marine Science Program supports scientists from dozens of institutions across six countries to advance our understanding of marine ecosystems. As in the first phase, the program uses its research findings to inform the management of marine protected areas and support the international commitments to Sustainable Development Goal 14. The Bertarelli Foundation is also a key partner in the UN Decade for Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030), an international collaboration of scientists, funders, and policymakers to facilitate the ocean science needed for sustainable development.

These examples also emphasize not only the importance of international collaboration but also the importance of investing in fundamental research (including both pure and use-inspired basic research). As the Academy report recommends, such investment “should also be expanded … [because] understanding the foundation of physical, life, and chemical sciences can lead to productive innovation and technology…”

“[The] Science Philanthropy Alliance, which is composed of nearly 40 foundations that fund science, calls for philanthropic support for discovery science, including both curiosity-driven and use-inspired research with a quest for knowledge. Importantly, we recognize that fundamental science and its applications co-evolve and catalyze each other. Investment in both fundamental and applied science is required for a vibrant future.”

To further illustrate this point, last week, the Gates Foundation held its annual Goalkeepers event, which is dedicated to tracking progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals, with a focus on Goals 1-6. While this year’s Goalkeepers report demonstrated that the crises over the last several years, including the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, have greatly hindered progress towards these goals, it also emphasized the incredible potential of innovation and scientific breakthroughs. As Melinda French Gates and Bill Gates note in the 2022 report, “No projection can ever account for the possibility of game-changing innovation because when those breakthroughs happen, they change all the fundamental assumptions embedded in that equation.”

This is the power of discovery-oriented inquiry. We give an example of this in the Science Philanthropy Alliance’s newly released strategic plan. “In the COVID-19 era, we are amazed at the speed with which mRNA vaccines were deployed to address the pandemic, but if we step back and look at all the elements that came together to develop these vaccines, we see a web of scientific discoveries, creatively stitched together… Today’s COVID-19 mRNA vaccines are built on a long chain of fundamental science: understanding how a chemically simple molecule, DNA, can pass genetic information down through generations; the insight that another simple molecule, RNA, is the key to expressing that information in the body; the realization that making, reading, and discarding the RNA message must be closely regulated so the wrong instructions are not followed at the wrong time. This amazing feat of bioengineering, viewed as having occurred in the span of nine months, stands on the back of 60 years or more of scientific discovery. Investing in basic research yields a remarkable return on investment.”

For these reasons, the Science Philanthropy Alliance, which is composed of nearly 40 foundations that fund science, calls for philanthropic support for discovery science, including both curiosity-driven and use-inspired research with a quest for knowledge. Importantly, we recognize that fundamental science and its applications co-evolve and catalyze each other. Investment in both fundamental and applied science is required for a vibrant future.

Further, engaging more talent in discovery science through international collaboration creates more opportunities for breakthroughs to occur. Transformative ideas can come from anywhere, and research shows that a greater diversity of perspectives leads to increased innovation. Thus, increased international collaboration among researchers, funders, policymakers, and other stakeholders will be critical for accelerating the discoveries and breakthroughs that are needed to achieve the sustainable development goals.

So how can we best support international scientific partnerships, particularly with partners in less developed countries? Here I’ll highlight some of the recommendations from our recent philanthropy roundtable on this topic.

As background, the American Academy of Arts & Sciences report provided several overarching recommendations for strengthening collaborations with low and lower-middle income countries, referred to as emerging science partners. While the recommendations are for the U.S., they can be applied to other higher-income countries as well. The first is that we should actively foster collaborations with emerging science partners, including by welcoming researchers and graduate students from these countries to our universities and research institutions. Rather than brain drain, the goal is to promote brain circulation, where each country’s researchers learn from each other and develop new skills to advance research in their home countries. The second is that we should contribute to efforts that build global research capacity and a global STEM workforce. And finally, collaborations with emerging science partners should reflect the values of transparency and equity. Our discussion highlighted the importance of gender equity in science, relevant to Goal 5.

“The benefits of international engagement are many, including learning from different models, expanding capacity to accelerate innovation, and collaboratively addressing global challenges. I am inspired by the many examples of scientists, funders, policymakers, and others in the community who are engaging in these types of collaborations …”

The report makes specific recommendations for different types of collaborators, including for foundations and the private sector. In addition to providing funding, foundations can be thought partners for building scientific infrastructure. The report recommends that foundations support university collaborations, including exchange programs, and scientific society programs that facilitate global science and expand interactions between scientists in different countries. Foundations could also support training for lawyers at emerging science partner universities, so these institutions are better positioned to establish MOUs, IP, and other formal agreements. And particularly relevant to our conversation today, the report recommends considering basic science investment for emerging science partners as an indirect but key path toward innovation and economic growth.

Since our roundtable discussion focused specifically on funding discovery science in Africa, the chairs of the study highlighted what they see as a transformational opportunity to develop scientific infrastructure in Africa. They made the case for building a synchrotron light source in Africa, which would enable researchers across the continent to conduct investigations in fields such as materials science, physics, chemistry, structural biology, and medicine, with many translational and clinical applications. While outside funding and partners are needed, the project would be locally led, creating opportunities to develop and retain talent in Africa.

Building on these recommendations, we then facilitated a roundtable discussion with funders and scientists working in Africa. They emphasized several points:

First, the importance of philanthropy for strengthening institutions. Our panelists noted that there is immense scientific talent in Africa, demonstrated for example by the extremely high quality and number of applications for a new NASEM U.S. Africa Frontiers of Science, Engineering, and Medicine program. Yet, many institutions lack the capability to support researchers in competing for and managing major grants. Philanthropies can support partnerships between institutions in the U.S. and Africa, as well as other efforts that build institutional capacity to support African scientists throughout the research process.

Second, the discussion highlighted the value of philanthropy for creating pathways that incentivize African scientists to pursue scientific careers in Africa, even after training elsewhere. An example is the Gates Foundation’s Calestous Juma Fellowship, which provides five years of funding, networking opportunities, and leadership and skills trainings for scientists permanently located at African research organizations. Our discussion also acknowledged the need for programs that provide mentorship to early career African scientists, who benefit from having mentors both within the continent and in higher income countries.

Finally, we discussed the role that philanthropy can play in enabling African-led scientific efforts. Currently, 50% of the funding for science in Africa comes from outside of the continent, and historically this has shifted the research agenda. Equitable funding approaches are needed to put the scientific agendas of African scientists back at the forefront by catalyzing African-led programs and research collaborations. This approach is especially relevant for achieving the sustainable development goals, as African researchers, policymakers, and funders have the local knowledge needed to establish research priorities and translate science into solutions for sustainable development. Further, philanthropies should think long-term and develop partnerships to help ensure the sustainability of new initiatives.

In closing, the Global Connections report and this roundtable discussion provided a strong foundation for developing international partnerships to advance scientific discovery and ultimately, sustainable development. As one of our panelists noted, science is a global endeavor, and many of the most important issues that humanity faces can only be solved through international collaboration.

The benefits of international engagement are many, including learning from different models, expanding capacity to accelerate innovation, and collaboratively addressing global challenges. I am inspired by the many examples of scientists, funders, policymakers, and others in the community who are engaging in these types of collaborations, and I look forward to a near future where international scientific partnerships are increasingly leveraged to realize the sustainable development goals. Thank you.”


Dana Foundation Awards Planning Grants to 11 Universities

September 28, 2022 6:45 pm Published by Leave a comment

The Dana Foundation, a Science Philanthropy Alliance member, today announced the recipients of the Dana Centers for Neuroscience and Society planning grants. Eleven US-based institutions will receive funding in this first phase of a two-part grant process to address gaps in training and research for scholars whose work focuses on neuroscience’s positive impact on society. Learn more about the grant and the 11 recipients here.