Alliance member the Simons Foundation has announced its support of 405 Ukrainian mathematicians, biologists, physicists, and chemists who remain in Ukraine. In total, the foundation will award more than $1.2 million in funding over 12 months. Read the full announcement here, and the New York Times’ profile of this important work here.
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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.
In a recent feature, the publication Nature recently noted the work of the Science Philanthropy Alliance and highlighted the broader importance of philanthropy to the research enterprise. The outlet spoke with four scientists about philanthropic funding they’ve secured and how it has supported their work. Read the full story here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In an editorial for Science, Alliance President France Córdova explains how “foundation leaders are taking bolder actions” to increase equity in science funding and solve global problems.
Alliance President France A. Córdova was recently recognized by Research!America with the Geoffrey Beene Foundation Builders of Science Award. In a conversation with Research!America President Mary Woolley, France discussed her career and the role of private philanthropy in medical research.
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
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.
The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation announced 20 grants totaling nearly $5 million aimed at empowering innovative, systemic change-focused partnerships between Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) and other educational institutions to build, expand, or enhance effective, equitable pathways into STEM graduate study by Black, Indigenous, and Latina/o students. Read more about this landmark investment on Sloan’s website.
The Science Philanthropy Alliance is thrilled to welcome its newest senior science advisor, Thomas R. Cech. Cech is a distinguished professor of biochemistry at University of Colorado Boulder and recipient of the 1989 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his pioneering work with RNA. You can read more here about Cech’s background.
The Alliance’s esteemed senior science advisors lend their expertise to philanthropists investing in basic science. As accomplished researchers and leaders of distinguished institutions, they bring a wealth of experience with firsthand knowledge of how great research is done and how philanthropists can support it.
Chan Zuckerberg Initiative co-founders and co-CEOs Dr. Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg announced that they are doubling down on their commitment to accelerating biomedical science and advancing human health with an ambitious new effort to observe, measure, and analyze any biological process throughout the human body — across spatial scales and in real time. Read more on the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative website.
In our year-long series on the influence of basic science on the world’s pandemic response, author Susan Reslewic Keatley explores how high-throughput technologies have sped up science in transformative ways. Stepwise tasks once done only by the deft hands of scientists, such as pipetting liquids from one test tube to another, have in recent history been transformed by high-throughput technologies. Now, in the time it takes a researcher to perform one precise action, these technologies can do the same hundreds if not thousands of times. When time is of the essence, as it is during a pandemic, high-throughput technologies unlock a level of speed and scale that was previously unimaginable.