Author Archives for Jason Maier

Science Philanthropy Alliance Welcomes Two New External Science Advisors

February 6, 2023 3:00 am Published by Leave a comment

The Science Philanthropy Alliance today announced the addition of two external science advisors. Margaret Leinen, Ph.D., and Carla J. Shatz, Ph.D., will join the Alliance’s existing cadre of distinguished external science advisors in advancing the organization’s mission to expand philanthropic support for discovery science.

“We are excited to have Margaret and Carla join our team and look forward to the knowledge and expertise they bring,” said France Córdova, Alliance president. “The Alliance is fortunate to add two highly accomplished researchers to guide philanthropists in supporting impactful basic research.”

Margaret Leinen, Ph.D.

Throughout her career, Leinen has earned numerous achievements for her work as an ocean biogeochemist and paleoceanographer, including serving as assistant director for geosciences at the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) from 2000-2007. She currently is a fellow of the American Geophysical Union and the Oceanography Society, organizations for which she previously served as president, and the AAAS Section on Atmospheric and Hydrospeheric Science. Leinen also serves as co-chair of the Decade Advisory Board for the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development and is the director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography and vice chancellor for marine science at the University of California, San Diego.

“Margaret is an accomplished scientist and administrator with an impressive resume, including time spent as the assistant director for geosciences at the National Science Foundation,” said Córdova, who served as president of NSF from 2014 to 2020. “Her credibility and reputation as a researcher and science leader will be a crucial asset in expanding philanthropic support for ocean science, environmental science and geoscience in general.”

Carla J. Shatz, Ph.D.

With a distinguished career that includes being named the first woman chair of the Department of Neurobiology at Harvard Medical School, Carla Shatz has dedicated decades to understanding the dynamic interplay between genes and the environment that shapes brain circuits. Her groundbreaking research has earned her numerous accolades, including being elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the Royal Society of London. Shatz has been the recipient of the Gruber Neuroscience Prize, the Champalimaud Vision Prize and the Kavli Prize in Neuroscience. In 2018, she received the Harvey Prize in Science and Technology from the Technion Israel Institute of Technology. She currently serves as the Sapp Family Provostial Professor of Biology and Neurobiology and the Catherine Holman Johnson Directorship of Bio-X at Stanford University.

“Carla has been an inspiration for scientists throughout her career and continues to distinguish herself as an expert in neuroscience,” said Córdova. “Her outstanding knowledge of this field will enhance the work of the Alliance and the support we provide to our members and advisees as they explore the most effective ways to fund discovery science.”

Margaret Leinen and Carla Shatz join fellow senior advisors Thomas R. Cech, Ph.D., Fleming Crim, Ph.D., Marc Kastner, Ph.D., and Shirley M. Tilghman, Ph.D., and succeed David Baltimore, Ph.D., and Robert Tijan, Ph.D., who each provided several years of advice to the Alliance. The firsthand knowledge of science advisors plays a critical role in the support the Alliance provides to philanthropists.

Heising-Simons Foundation names Sushma Raman next president and CEO

January 17, 2023 7:20 pm Published by Leave a comment

Alliance member the Heising-Simons Foundation has named Sushma Raman its new president and CEO. Raman is an interdisciplinary and experienced philanthropic leader, currently the executive director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy. She brings over two decades of experience launching, scaling, and leading social justice and philanthropic programs and collaboratives, including helping build capabilities of grassroots human rights organizations and their leaders. She has also taught graduate courses in the public policy schools at UCLA, USC, Tufts Fletcher School, and Harvard Kennedy School. Read the full announcement here.

Lyda Hill awarded the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy

August 8, 2022 12:59 pm Published by Leave a comment

Alliance member Lyda Hill will be honored with the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy, which recognizes innovative philanthropists for their contributions to solving global challenges. Among Hill’s many accomplishments as a philanthropist, she was an early donor to the work that would yield Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine. Read more here about Hill’s work and this year’s winners of the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy.

Introducing the Alliance’s new strategic plan

June 30, 2022 8:52 am Published by Leave a comment

I’m pleased to share the Alliance’s new strategic plan, which marks the culmination of a year of dedicated effort by the Alliance’s staff, Advisory Board, and members. It charts a path for the organization over the next five years toward a world that increasingly supports and realizes the full benefit of scientific discovery. Our mission as an Alliance is to help our members and advisees advance that discovery through visionary philanthropy.

With the plan now complete, our focus has already turned to execution. I believe you’ll find within this plan a consistent focus on work that supports our members’ shared interest in discovery science. As the strategy outlines, this falls under two interrelated pillars: encouraging new philanthropy for science and increasing the effectiveness and impact of science philanthropy. Woven between these two are activities like our ongoing advising services and shared learning opportunities as well as a renewed focus on efforts like partnerships and positioning science philanthropy for influential audiences.

While this plan was a collective effort, I do want to offer a special thanks to our Strategy Roundtable. Under guidance from Strategy Director Kate Lowry and with input from our Advisory Board, this group of representatives from 10 member organizations worked tirelessly to explore and refine the Alliance’s unique contribution to science philanthropy. Their collective effort is a prime example of how collaboration across funders can yield important results that elevate the entire science philanthropy community.


Theoretical physicist Dr. Frank Wilczek wins 2022 Templeton Prize

May 11, 2022 7:35 am Published by Leave a comment

The Templeton Prize, which is administered by Alliance member the John Templeton Foundation, today announced Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist Dr. Frank Wilczek as its 2022 winner. The organization notes that Wilczek’s “boundary-pushing investigations into the fundamental laws of nature have transformed our understanding of the forces that govern our universe.” Valued at more than $1.3 million, the Templeton Prize is one of the world’s largest annual individual awards and recognizes individuals whose 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.

More than the Sum of its Parts: The Many Benefits of Public-Private Partnerships

April 26, 2022 4:04 pm Published by Leave a comment

Emblazoned across a wall at one Alliance member’s headquarters is the African proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” For science philanthropists looking to maximize the impact of their investments, the spirit of this saying is reflected in their growing interest in public-private partnerships (PPPs). By combining the complementary strengths of philanthropy and government, funders in both sectors are realizing the transformative impact of these partnerships.

In May, the Alliance hosted leaders from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to help members understand the Biden administration’s science agenda and what role it sees philanthropy playing. “We’re at a once-in-a-generation moment for transformation,” said Kei Koizumi, acting director and chief of staff at OSTP. “To meet that moment, I think the U.S. government and the philanthropic community need to work together more closely than ever before.”

But willingness alone doesn’t make a PPP work. To dig deeper into how to craft and make the most of these partnerships, the Alliance convened in August a members’ salon featuring Simons Foundation President David Spergel and Kumar Garg, senior managing director and head of partnerships at Schmidt Futures. The discussion was moderated by Alliance President France Córdova, who lent her own expertise as the former director of the National Science Foundation (NSF). Drawing on their experience across government, philanthropy, and academia, the speakers encouraged members to rethink some of the traditional notions about working with government.

“When we think about partnerships, joint funding often comes to mind,” said Spergel, but informal collaborations can also prove successful. “I think we’re being partners when we identify areas where the federal government cannot easily invest and we can make those investments. Sometimes philanthropic funding can be about de-risking projects.” For example, philanthropic seed funding can act as a catalyst to draw follow-on funding from the government. Though the two sectors may not formally work together, this touchpoint still offers an opportunity to collaborate around aligned interests.

Vera C. Rubin Observatory under construction atop Cerro Pachón in the Chilean Andes as of September, 2021. (Rubin Observatory/NSF/AURA/O. Rivera)

A good example of this was the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, now part of the Rubin Observatory. Philanthropic investments first funded the telescope’s mirror in 2008 and, once completed, prompted the National Academies Astronomy Decadal Survey to identify the continuation of the project as a top priority. Spurred by the initial private investment, the project became an NSF-Department of Energy (DOE) partnership. “It really advanced the project at least three or four years to have had the [mirror] started with philanthropic funding,” said Spergel.

Building on this, Garg—who worked in OSTP during the Obama administration prior to joining Schmidt Futures—underscored the importance of thinking about PPPs in terms of complementary strengths. For example, philanthropy’s ability to de-risk a project can be complemented by government’s ability to scale, especially given its spending power. “If you just look at basic R&D, philanthropic sector giving pales in comparison to basic R&D investments the [federal] government is making in the U.S. alone,” said Garg. Government also provides follow-on capital to basic R&D and often serves as a large customer that gives commercial projects traction.

Philanthropy can also look for opportunities to provide nimbleness and flexibility that government agencies might not otherwise have. This was the case during the development of the NSF-Simons Centers for Mathematics of Complex Biological Systems. “We were able to provide funding for the centers in ways it was more difficult for NSF to fund, through fewer rules on things like supporting visitors, conferences, administration, [and] postdocs,” said Spergel. “The goal [of partnership] is really to enable the kind of transformative science that we couldn’t do when working on our own,” added Spergel. NSF was able to bring the projects rapidly to scale, but also brought connections, expertise, and access to a broader community. “The whole was greater than the sum of the parts. We were able to create something that has been successful and impactful.”

For its part, the government also brings to the table a unique convening power and the ability to align multiple players around common goals. This was on display with the formation of the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative—a PPP created during the Obama administration with support from the Kavli Foundation and Simons Foundation, among others. Garg noted that “it was easier to bring public sector, philanthropy, and a range of other actors together if you could put an overall frame or large initiative that the White House or other folks were championing.”

To ensure that such partnerships are successful, many members emphasized clear communication about expectations at the outset, and the importance of establishing mutual trust, which include personal relationships between colleagues in the different partner organizations. “You’ve heard this expression, ‘you move at the speed of trust,’” said Brooke Smith, director of public engagement with science at the Kavli Foundation, who oversaw the establishment of the Science Public Engagement Partnership (SciPEP) program. “The trust that needed to be built between our foundation and the [DOE] and the individual people that are involved mattered a lot.”

While no two PPPs look exactly alike, the importance of building relationships, finding mutual interests, and leveraging complementary strengths stood out as common threads in all the examples discussed by Spergel, Garg, and other members. Given the strong member interest in PPPs, the Alliance plans to prioritize the topic in 2022 by creating resources to assist philanthropy and government in forging partnerships.

This article first appeared in the Alliance’s 2021 Annual Report. You can read the full report here.

Celebrating a Banner Year for Science Philanthropy

March 4, 2022 2:36 pm Published by Leave a comment

The following note from Board Chair Harvey Fineberg appeared in the Alliance’s 2021 annual report, which recaps a banner year for the Alliance that saw it add six members and complete 84 advising projects to inform more than $127 million in science funding.


Marked by the appointment of France Córdova as our president, 2021 was a critical year for the Alliance. In France, we have a renowned scientific leader with deep experience in academic and government settings and a keen appreciation of the vital role philanthropy plays in advancing science.

Under France’s leadership, and with strong support from the Advisory Board, the Alliance embarked this year on a strategic planning process that promises to position the organization for success well into the future. No doubt, enlarging the base of philanthropy for science and improving the effectiveness of philanthropy for science will remain cornerstones of our mission. This is the purpose that brings us together and that continues to attract new members to our cause.

As illustrated by the examples described in this report, working together as a community of science funders enables us to accomplish more for science than by working in isolation. Thanks to all the members who have joined in this effort, we made tangible progress through 2021 and are well-positioned for the year ahead.

Harvey V. Fineberg, MD, PhD
President, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation
Advisory Board Chair, Science Philanthropy Alliance

Women as Agents of Change in Science

February 11, 2022 3:06 pm Published by Leave a comment

To mark the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, the Packard Foundation’s Xiao-Wei Wang and Natalie Lake asked three Packard Fellows about how they are advancing science, not only through their research, but also by appreciating the value of inclusion. Read more here.