In March 2020, when COVID-19 officially became a pandemic, sociologist Alondra Nelson launched a crowdsourced collection of interdisciplinary resources placing COVID-19 in historical and cultural context. In the following weeks, the Social Science Research Council, of which Nelson was president, added initiatives to develop insights about the roots of the crisis; its effects across societies; and its disproportionate effects on Black, Native American, and Latino communities. Some of the initiatives included a registry tracking COVID-19-related research, analysis of COVID-19-related misinformation, and firsthand accounts from Brooklyn College students in deeply affected communities.
“I believe we have a responsibility to work together to make sure that our science and technology reflect us, and when it does, that it reflects all of us—that it reflects who we truly are together,” Nelson said after President Joe Biden appointed her in January as the first deputy director for science and society of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. “We have an incredible window of opportunity ahead of us to approach our science and technology policy in ways that are honest and inclusive—to bring the full strength of our communities, our experiences, our concerns, and our aspirations as we think through emergent forms of science and technology.”
Meeting this opportunity and responsibility requires building diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) into the DNA of science—a challenge calling for unprecedented cooperation across fields, communities, and types of knowledge. Language and communication will help us build those connections, and the definitions we use draw on bridging work by the Communications Network, a professional organization of social-sector communications leaders. By equity, we mean a focus on advancing opportunity for everyone by changing long-standing structural factors that benefit some social groups and harm others. By inclusion, we mean co-creating authentic partnerships to produce knowledge and design solutions that foster belonging. By diversity, we mean a reflection of society’s differences, including race, ethnicity, gender, ability, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and religion. When we combine these factors into a DEI approach, the goal, to invoke Nelson, is to ensure that our science and technology reflect all of us. So, how can philanthropy meet this opportunity for necessary and overdue course correction?
A growing number of science-focused philanthropies are developing initiatives to strengthen DEI in their own organizations, among the organizations they support, and in science and society broadly. At the same time, new and mounting crises—including the COVID-19 pandemic, biases in artificial intelligence, and catastrophic weather events exacerbated by climate change—are spurring philanthropists invested in social justice to pay greater attention to equity issues surrounding the design and application of emerging science.
Read the full article about science philanthropy by Elizabeth Good Christopherson, Emily L. Howell, Dietram A. Scheufele, Kasisomayajula Viswanath & Norris P. West at Stanford Social Innovation Review.
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