“Simply acknowledging inequities and the societal forces that created and perpetuate them is not enough. As a grantmaker, our responsibility is to make change for the better.” – Deanna Gomby, President of the Heising-Simons Foundation
Science philanthropy has the power and potential to advance equity and inclusion in science, resulting in a greater diversity of perspectives that leads to increased scientific innovation and excellence (Hofstra et al., 2020). Conversely, philanthropy can unintentionally reinforce structural inequities in the scientific enterprise. An analysis of philanthropic investments in higher education commissioned by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation found that 44% of philanthropic dollars from 2016–2021 went to the top 10 most-funded institutions (Espinosa and Gale, 2021). As these authors note in the title of their Inside Philanthropy article, “Philanthropy has fallen short in its efforts to make STEM more diverse—We have the tools to fix it.”
Advancing DEI in science is a key component of the Alliance’s work to improve the impact and effectiveness of science philanthropy. It is also consistent with our values and the efforts of many individual member organizations. Philanthropic funders are increasingly driving change by supporting broader sets of institutions and grantees. The Burroughs-Wellcome Fund, for example, has committed to substantial giving to support the work of researchers from populations and geographic regions underrepresented in science. The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation is creating more diverse, equitable, and inclusive pathways in part by supporting minority-serving institutions and other institutions with a demonstrated record of graduating underrepresented students in science. Many philanthropic funders have also made new commitments to applying DEI principles within their organizations. For example, the Heising-Simons Foundation is committed to applying an equity lens to how they approach their work, including how they analyze problems, engage a diversity of perspectives and partners, develop strategies, and structure their grantmaking processes. Further, in a 2021 survey, the Council on Foundations found that, after years of stasis, foundations are hiring more people of color as program officers and chief executives (Council of Foundations, 2021). There are new goals for science philanthropy, with a commitment to increase equity in funding (Córdova, 2022).
The Alliance’s DEI Shared Interest Group (SIG) was formed in late 2020, building on the strong interest and engagement in the DEI leadership training for Alliance members hosted by the Heising-Simons Foundation in 2019 and the Simons Foundation in 2020. The focus of the Alliance’s DEI SIG has been on providing a space for collective DEI learning and sharing promising practices. The Alliance anticipates a continued need for this space for years to come.
Motivated by the observation that DEI is among the highest priorities for science funders looking to improve impact and effectiveness, the Alliance will:
- Continue to provide a platform for shared DEI learning among members
- Facilitate sharing promising practices among members and to broader audiences
- Offer skill-building training, workshops, and other opportunities for philanthropists and foundations
- Leverage member expertise to provide guidance on collecting demographic data and establishing metrics for DEI funding outcomes. Members who opt to make such data publicly available will demonstrate a commitment to accountability for their values.
Note: The above language is excerpted from the Alliance’s strategic plan, which you can read here.