Contrary to its name, basic science is complex – it lays the foundation for countless new discoveries and advancements, in everything from laundry stain remover to gene therapies.
But while critical, it’s sometimes so complex that funders often need advice on how and what to fund, including Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan when they wanted to add scientific research to their portfolio.
That’s where The Science Philanthropy Alliance, a worldwide network of 26 foundations, comes in. The organization advises new, emerging and current philanthropists on how to effectively support basic science research. In addition to connecting funders to learning opportunities and their peers, it provides a range of services including strategy development and scientific advisor recruitment.
“We are the bridge between philanthropists and the science world,” said Valerie Conn, executive director of the Science Philanthropy Alliance.
Why Basic Science?
With guidance from Science Philanthropy Alliance, funders have an opportunity to put their dollars toward exciting research, such as the Human Cell Atlas, an initiative led by two female scientists who are mapping cells of the human body to understand human health and diagnose and treat diseases. Chan and Zuckerberg are among the funders.
“We introduced [Chan and Zuckerberg] to many established science foundations and scientists as they began to learn about how to give to basic science,” Conn said.
Helping philanthropists seed early stage research ensures that the pipeline of science breakthroughs continues. Conn said philanthropists often compare their smaller contributions to the billions of dollars in government funding and question how their philanthropy can make a difference. Funding basic science can be a solution.
Smaller funders collaborating with large foundations allows them to leverage resources for greater good with a much larger impact. We help [philanthropists] find scientific advisors and identify gaps in knowledge and funding.
This collaboration can often uncover new ideas, and/or jumpstart a project that needs more funding. It also allows donors to “act more nimbly and quicker than government can,” according to Conn.
Philanthropists in the science field demonstrate a few similar characteristics: They have a high-risk tolerance and function on a long-term time scale. Science Philanthropy Alliance pulls together like-minded funders and scientific experts who outline challenges and opportunities.
Given growing interest from funders in deeply technical fields like climate and ocean science and neurodegenerative diseases, Conn said there is a vast opportunity to make a difference today on the big challenges of tomorrow.
“Through basic science, private funders can make a big impact on the future of science, health and technology,” Conn said. “Basic science funding ensures science breakthroughs can happen over the next decade and beyond.”
Original contribution by Jen Jope, Senior Editor at Giving Compass.
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