We often celebrate the agility, alacrity and adaptability of private philanthropy — faster than government, free of shareholder interests and flexible in deploying resources for the public good. In times of upheaval, as in a financial crisis or policy perturbations, philanthropy can be both quickly responsive and a steadying force to keep individuals, organizations and communities on track to reach important social goals.
In the places we work, from the U.S. and Canada to Colombia and Brazil, rapid social, economic and political changes are in play. When social conditions shift or governments alter course, the philanthropic sector has a unique opportunity to reinforce positive changes that are consistent with important social goals and to help stabilize social systems and institutions against influences that detract from reaching desirable goals.
The same freedom that gives the philanthropic sector a capacity to adapt to changing conditions also enables a constancy of purpose. The great goals philanthropy typically strives to achieve cannot be reached overnight, nor is it only a single factor that typically stands in the way. Philanthropy can commit for the long-haul to achieve progress in society, and this steadfastness of purpose is especially valuable in times of turmoil.
Gordon and Betty Moore established their eponymous foundation with the hope that we would win significant and durable improvements, rather than merely lose more slowly over time. Their willingness to take risks and invest over the long-term continues to inspire us to create new and better ways to achieve lasting change for the good.
Our 2016 annual report – Enduring Aims. Innovative Solutions. – highlights some of the ways we are taking advantage of the flexibility of philanthropy to accelerate progress.
- Moore Inventor Fellows: We have invested in people from the beginning of the foundation. Moore Investigators in a variety of fields are provided the freedom and means to advance scientific discovery. In 2016, we introduced a similar model for inventors. The first cohort of inventors were announced in November 2016, and we look forward to seeing how their work progresses during their three-year fellowship.
- Conservation and markets initiatives: Following in-depth analysis and testing, we launched three initiatives focused on harnessing market forces to stem environmental degradation. We are fortunately not alone in these pursuits, and we recognize this is a complex challenge. If successful, however, we can dramatically curtail the forces that threaten natural ecosystems.
Securing durable impact
The report also showcases the benefits of long-term commitments to our core aims: to foster path-breaking scientific discovery, environmental conservation, patient care improvements and preservation of the special character of the San Francisco Bay Area. It is gratifying this year to mark the gains by a wide variety of grantees, including:
- Identidad Madidi: In what is regarded as one of the most biodiverse and least explored regions in the world, a scientific expedition launched in 2015 to document the flora and fauna of Madidi National Park, which spans from the high Andes to the lowland Amazon rainforest. By the end of 2016, biologists and guides from Bolivian civil society and government institutions had registered hundreds of new species records for vertebrates, butterflies and plants. Beyond these contributions to science, the expedition has used social media, talks and other public engagement opportunities to reach more than two million Bolivians, or nearly 20 percent of the country’s population.
- Earthquake early warning: Approximately 75 million Americans live in areas of significant seismic risk across 39 states. Most of our nation’s earthquake risk is concentrated on the West Coast of the United States. A West Coast earthquake early warning system has the potential to save lives and infrastructure. In a true public-private partnership, we had the opportunity to partner with U.S. Geological Survey and three universities to support the research and development that led to a working system. In 2016, we were pleased to see increased allocations of state and federal dollars necessary to make implementation of this life-saving system a reality.
- OpenNotes: While electronic health records are increasingly common and more and more patients have access to information about their visits and treatments, fewer have access to the notes written by clinicians about their interactions. Studies show that when patients have access to those notes, they feel more in control of their care and are more likely to adhere to a treatment plan. In 2015, we joined with the Peterson Center on Healthcare, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Cambia Health Foundation in an effort to bring OpenNotes to 50 million patients. The 10 million mark was crossed in 2016 and work continues to secure additional patient access.
- Wine Country conservation: The Bay Area encompasses some of the most coveted real estate in the nation. Demand for land is strong and opportunities to bring new lands into stewardship are increasingly challenging. In 2016, we were pleased to partner with the Trust for Public Land and other conservation organizations in an acquisition and conservation easement that will help safeguard 7,260 acres of semi-wilderness. This land is a critical conservation priority and it will contribute to the biodiversity of our region for years to come.
The work of these grantees and countless others demonstrates how philanthropy can help accelerate positive change in society. Their successes exemplify the substantial, durable impact we strive to achieve.
Constancy in purpose
As we reflect on this progress and think about our work in the context of 2017 and beyond, we acknowledge that the rapidity of social and political change worldwide presents both challenges and opportunities. We try to be receptive to openings for progress and to navigate around obstacles that might impede success.
Meaningful, lasting change takes time. The importance of protecting our natural ecosystems, the need to accelerate scientific discovery, the benefits of improving patient care, and the desire to preserve the special character of our region are constants. The ability to stay focused on the mission while remaining open to innovative solutions is a hallmark of successful philanthropy.
Harvey V. Fineberg, M.D., Ph.D.
Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation