The Role of Foundations in the Support of International Science and Technology
VICTOR RABINOWITCH AND JOHN HURLEY*
I consider it a special privilege to participate in this symposium honoring Gerry Dinneen's service to the National Academy of Engineering (NAE). As many of you know, before coming to the MacArthur Foundation nearly 5 years ago, I spent 25 years working with the international programs of the National Research Council (NRC). During the last 8 of those years, as executive director of the Office of International Affairs, I worked regularly with Gerry and his counterpart at the National Academy of Sciences. So, through firsthand experience, I know that Gerry has been an extraordinarily active and distinguished foreign secretary.
Gerry's long experience in academia, private industry, and government has given him a perspective that has been enormously valuable to those of us working with the day-to-day operations of the NRC. But he also has a deep understanding of the increasingly global nature of the problems we confront as a society and of the imperative for cooperative international approaches to solving these problems.
To those who know him, Gerry personifies the helpful colleague and counselor. He questions assumptions and probes the standard ways of doing things, but in a way that is constructive and that often leads to new insights. His enthusiasm is encouraging and his sense of humor a welcome relief in a set of institutions in which people sometimes take themselves all too seriously.
I would be remiss if I did not express my pleasure at participating in a symposium chaired by Bob White, who has been a valued friend and mentor to
Rabinowitch and Hurley collaborated as authors of the paper, which was presented at the symposium by Rabinowitch.
me. In my opinion, Bob has been the most influential president in the history of the NAE. During his tenure, the Academy actively addressed some of the most important issues in technology and public policy. The NAE has been extremely fortunate in having two such farsighted and internationally minded individuals in its senior leadership.
THE INTERNATIONAL DIMENSION OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
For all of my professional life, I have been an internationalist. I am tempted to say that this trait is genetic. My father, Eugene Rabinowitch, was a physical chemist who was deeply concerned with science and international affairs, as evidenced by his early involvement in the Pugwash meetings on international issues and his founding of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. I became engaged with this dual track of science and international concerns at the onset of my professional work, taking my doctorate in the somewhat unusual combination of zoology and international affairs. It might seem more probable if I mention that my thesis in zoology was on animal behavior! Yet, even without this family influence, I have little doubt that I would have gravitated toward a deep involvement in international affairs. It seems essential for the times in which we live.
Nearly every major issue we face as a society today is global in nature. The demand for wood products in Japan has an impact on forests in Oregon or Chile. The development of new communications devices in California will affect cultural practices in South Africa. The extinction of vast tracts of forest in the Amazon watershed may alter the climate of Siberia. Invariably, those issues have important scientific and technological dimensions. This is true whether we are speaking of arms control and disarmament, the preservation of global biodiversity, world food production, or fair and productive access to the dazzling array of new information and communication tools. In addition, the resolution of these issues requires concerted international action. The destruction of the ozone layer is a problem of the global commons that can only be resolved by concerted worldwide action. Smallpox was eradicated only through the cooperative efforts of many countries and health organizations.
Given the characteristics of the modern age, it is vital that engineers and scientists take the widest possible view of their work. It is also critical that our most important technological and scientific institutions, such as the NAE, help maintain a constant and lively interaction with colleagues and kindred institutions throughout the world.
THE ROLE OF PRIVATE FOUNDATIONS
I have been asked to address the role of foundations in international science and technology. Clearly, foundations have an important role to play in this global
enterprise. Let me take the next few minutes to share with you a brief historical perspective on this role, some comments on its changing nature, and a few speculations on its future shape.
I should emphasize that I do not intend to give an encyclopedic view of foundation funding related to international science and technology. To make my task manageable, I will confine my presentation to the activities of American private foundations. My definition of science and technology will be broad. If you read the annual reports of foundations, you will find a very small number that show activity under the category of “science and technology.” You must look instead to such areas as science education, agricultural sciences, environment and natural resources, information and telecommunications, or tropical diseases. I will focus, however, on the natural and physical sciences. The very considerable amount of foundation-supported international work in the social sciences will not be included.
The Rockefeller Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York were among the earliest American experiments in foundation-based philanthropy. It is interesting to note that along with their work within the United States, they developed a corresponding interest in international science and technology. The Rockefeller Foundation was particularly strong in its international outreach. The motivation for this interest in international work and in science and technology is not entirely clear. But it was the age of Progressivism, and people believed in the power of knowledge to accomplish good things. Moreover, there was still a sense in America that we had an obligation to share our superior knowledge and knowhow with those who had not been blessed as abundantly as we.
It has been suggested that part of the foundation's motivation in pursuing scientific approaches to problem solving may have arisen from John D. Rockefeller's experience at Standard Oil. Furthermore, addressing certain issues scientifically required an international approach. If the parasitic disease caused by hookworm was the target of interest, for example, it had to be attacked throughout the world.
Whatever the underlying reasons, The Rockefeller Foundation portfolio included international science and technology. Much of this early work was medical, focused on specific diseases. In the 1930s, Rockefeller developed a deeper interest in the science of health and expanded into other knowledge areas as well, including physics, mathematics, astronomy, and biology. Much of the grant-making in the physical sciences was done in Europe, since that was the locus of much of the interesting work in these fields.
In the 1940s, Rockefeller began to show an interest in the developing world. Science was at the core of this work, and agriculture became a particular focus. For example, research on wheat carried out in Mexico launched the green revolution. A productive interaction between laboratory and field research characterized much of this work. There was an increasing focus on problem solving and
less investment in developing particular disciplines. New institutions were created, and strong institutional networks evolved.
I have stressed the Rockefeller experience because in most respects it has been the flagship American foundation in terms of its international outlook. About 70 percent of its current grantmaking is international, including in the areas of science and technology. In 1994, the foundation 's budget for agricultural sciences was $17 million. The population and health sciences budgets were $14 million and $13 million, respectively. All three program areas have a developing-country orientation. Also that year, $6 million was allocated to Rockefeller's leadership for environment and development program, aimed at training the next generation of leaders in multidisciplinary approaches to environmentally sustainable development. Staff of Rockefeller note, however, that the foundation has less of a scientific focus now than even a decade ago. In fields such as health and population, the emphasis is more on policy than on science.
Other private foundations have also made important contributions to international science and technology over the past several decades. The Ford Foundation, for example, although concentrating on U.S. domestic issues and policies has nonetheless made some significant contributions in international science and technology. These include Ford's work on modernizing and building the capacity of universities, with agriculture an important focus.
Some of Ford's specific initiatives should be noted. For example, the Population Council received a grant in 1954 for research on world population problems, and this led to the 1963 establishment of a population program at Ford that has provided major support for reproductive biology and contraceptive research. Ford's reproductive health and population program now focuses mainly on the underlying social, economic, and cultural factors that affect reproductive health. Ford established Resources for the Future in 1952. The organization has enhanced our understanding of both domestic and international natural resource and environmental issues.
Major work has also been done by Ford on world food production. In 1960, in conjunction with The Rockefeller Foundation, Ford gave $6.9 million to help establish the International Rice Research Institute, and it provided over $10 million to increase food production in India. In the 1960s, Ford grants established the Midwest Universities Consortium for International Affairs, which has been heavily involved ever since in technical assistance and education in developing countries, especially in the area of agriculture. The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center was established in 1966 with support from Ford, Rockefeller, and the Mexican government. In 1976, Ford provided money to start the International Food Policy Research Institute. Presently, Ford provides support to grantees in developing nations for agricultural productivity and land and water management under its rural poverty and resources program. In 1994, the program's budget was on the order of $46 million, but a considerable portion of these funds were not supporting scientific work.
The Carnegie Corporation of New York sponsors a program for strengthening human resources in developing countries that focuses on the African and Caribbean nations of the present and former British Commonwealth, with a more limited interest in Mexico. Among other things, the program helps develop information systems that increase scholarly access to international research data, and it promotes interdisciplinary networks of social and medical scientists. The maternal and child health component of the program has made a strong investment in research to improve prenatal and obstetric care. The program made about $8 million in grants in 1994, with about $5 million earmarked for science and technology. Carnegie also provides money for science policy studies, some of which have an international focus.
The Kellogg Foundation, one of the largest American grantmaking organizations, has strong international interests. In 1994, about 28 percent of its grants, or $66 million, went toward international activities, particularly in health and agriculture. Much of this work was in areas other than science and technology. Still, Kellogg grants supporting innovative educational programs in agriculture, higher education, information technology, and professional education in health represent nearly half of the foundation's international budget.
I must also mention my own organization, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which is also a grantmaker with activities in international science and technology. Our interests lie in the application of science and technology to problem solving rather than basic research. Our world environment and resources program focuses on the preservation of biodiversity. Along with an emphasis on supporting indigenous environmental and conservation organizations in a number of countries, some of this support goes to research, including field biology. On an annual basis, we provide about $5 million for work in the environmental sciences.
The peace and international cooperation program at MacArthur has supported arms control efforts, including technical studies. Current support for this type of work is modest—several hundred thousand dollars per year. Although our health program is focused mainly on mental health in the United States, we have been a significant supporter of research on tropical parasitic diseases. Although the work on parasitic diseases is slowly being phased out, we will continue to make grants averaging about $2 million a year over the next 3 years. A recent special foundation initiative was a series of studies and related activities on global sustainability, organized collaboratively with the Brookings Institution, the World Resources Institute, and the Santa Fe Institute. This 3-year project was funded at $1 million annually.
MacArthur provides some $1.5 million annually in science-related grants for researchers working in the former Soviet Union, including support for their travel to scientific meetings abroad. MacArthur also makes grants to formerly Soviet scientific institutions for environmental projects. I cannot mention the Soviet Union without noting the International Science Foundation (ISF), endowed by
financier George Soros. The ISF's principal aim is to preserve scientific excellence in the former Soviet states and in the Baltic countries. It has 10 offices throughout these regions. Soros pledged to contribute $100 million over a 2-year period to this effort. Although there was some initial criticism of the foundation's methods for making grants to individual scientists, the fact is that George Soros began the flow of grant money when other foundations and Western governments were still considering what to do. ISF has recently announced it will assist other organizations, at no charge, in making contributions to science and technology in the former Soviet Union and the Baltic states. Future ISF activities apparently depend considerably on whether Western governments and the governments of the former Soviet states are willing to provide matching funds.
The work of the Pew Charitable Trusts in international science and technology is relatively modest. Pew conducts some grantmaking related to deforestation and the preservation of biological diversity, global warming and climate change, and international health and health policy. The trusts' global stewardship initiative aims to raise awareness of the environmental, human, and international security consequences of population growth and the unsustainable consumption of the world 's resources. Support of the initiative totals several million dollars annually out of a grant budget of roughly $150 million.
In 1983, the McKnight Foundation began to provide money for basic research in plant biology as a way to address world hunger problems. That effort concluded in 1992, but in 1993, McKnight initiated a new collaborative crop research program to which it committed up to $12 million over a 6-year period. Program grants support collaborative research partnerships between top plant scientists in less-developed countries and those in the United States. This is highly important work but represents a very modest portion (4 to 5 percent) of the foundation's total annual grantmaking.
The Edna McConnell Clark Foundation provides funding for tropical disease research focused on three debilitating diseases found in the developing world: schistosomiasis, or snail fever, and the two major infectious causes of blindness, onchocerciasis and trachoma. A large portion of this effort goes to vaccine development. The grants amounted to $4.6 million in 1994.
The Howard Hughes Medical Institute has become an enormously important source of funds for biomedical research. Most of this money goes to U.S. researchers, but the institute also has an international research scholars program. The participants include life sciences researchers in Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and, most recently, the former Soviet Union.
Since I am in California and am addressing a symposium of the National Academy of Engineering, I certainly should note the contributions of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. The Hewlett Foundation supports work on population issues that have a strong international component. The Packard Foundation also supports work on population that, in its international aspects, focuses on Latin America.
I could easily name other foundations that make grants related to international science and technology. The Noyes Foundation, the International Foundation, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Kaiser Foundation, the Tinker Foundation, and others have all made helpful contributions in this area. Rather than giving you further detail, let me summarize the situation.
American private foundations have been active in the support of international science and technology since the years before World War II. Their work was the forerunner to many programs of assistance and exchange that were developed by governments and multinational organizations after the war.
Today, although a considerable number of foundations have modest programs related to international science and technology, only a half-dozen are substantial players. Much of the current funding is directed toward the problems of developing countries. Agriculture, health, and the environment are the areas most often targeted. Foundations have also provided money for higher-education activities in science and technology. This has been an area in which it is difficult to see results, however, and support seems to be waning except for very specific training programs. Increasingly, foundations are showing interest in the applications of information technology and telecommunications. It is also important to note the contributions of U.S. foundations in two special areas: human rights of scientists, engineers, and physicians; and arms control and disarmament.
Overall, I would estimate that support by American foundations for international science and technology activities is in the neighborhood of $100 million per year. That figure might be increased by $25 or $30 million, if the broadest definitions of science-and-technology-related activities are used. It would increase still further if money disbursed by George Soros's ISF were included.
CHARACTERISTICS OF FOUNDATION SUPPORT FOR INTERNATIONAL SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
What are foundations able to do that is noteworthy and distinguishes their giving from other donors, such as international development banks or national aid agencies? This is an important question, because the magnitude of the international problems we face is immense, especially for the two-thirds of the world's population located in developing countries.
Let me illustrate these problems with some examples that may interest you as engineers. The World Development Report 1994 (World Bank, 1994) notes that developing countries invest $200 billion a year in new infrastructure, or 4 percent of their national output, 20 percent of their total spending, and 40 to 60 percent of their public expenditures. As a result, there have been dramatic improvements in services, including transportation, and the availability of power, water, sanitation, telecommunications, and irrigation. Despite this progress, however, enormous challenges still loom. The report goes on to say:
One billion people in the developing world still lack access to clean water—and nearly 2 billion lack adequate sanitation. In rural areas especially, women and children often spend long hours fetching water. Already inadequate transport networks are deteriorating rapidly in many countries. Electric power has yet to reach 2 billion people, and in many countries unreliable power constrains output. The demands for telecommunications to modernize production and enhance international competitiveness far outstrip existing capacity. On top of all this, population growth and urbanization are increasing the demand for infrastructure.
Along with these infrastructure problems, there are still millions of people who are constantly hungry, millions who suffer from diseases that could be controlled, and millions who face the modern world without the tools of education.
I remind you of my earlier comment that science and technology reach to the core of nearly all of these problems. What can the grants of a rather small number of American foundations contribute to their solution? I submit that U.S. foundations have some unique qualities that make them ideally suited to facilitating the application of science and technology to global needs.
Foundations Can Move Quickly
Compared to most government or multinational donors, foundations can approve projects and begin dispersing funds much more rapidly. For example, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, many American organizations became concerned that scientists in the region would be adversely affected by the ensuing economic and political turmoil. There was a recognition that alternative scientific projects needed to be found for Soviet nuclear scientists and weapons designers to reduce the pressure on these professionals to emigrate. Yet, for the most part, U.S. and multinational efforts to buttress the science enterprise in the former Soviet Union have taken years to get under way. By contrast, several U.S. foundations began making grants to scientific organizations and individual scientists within a matter of months of the Soviet breakup. Because of the complexities of laws and rules still under development in the recipient countries, these monies have often traveled through U.S. intermediaries.
Foundations Can Take Risks
It is very difficult for local, state, or national governments to take actions that run the risk of failure. Yet, in order to find solutions to many of the international problems we face, we need to be experimental and bold. Foundations do not want their projects to fail any more than do other organizations. But foundations' private funding and governance enable them to accept a level of risk in their grantmaking that would be unacceptable elsewhere.
Foundations Take a Long-Range View
Public funding for many projects depends on budgets that vary year to year. Changes in government can bring major changes in program priorities and strategies. By contrast, foundations can make long-range commitments to projects or institutions, evaluate progress over time, and work with recipient organizations to make mid-course adjustments that will result in a better outcome. Continuity of funding and of purpose can be critical to the success of efforts to support international science and technology.
I have firsthand experience with the difficulties imposed by sudden changes in funding. During my time at the NRC, one of our international efforts was a competitive research grants program for scientists in developing countries working in agriculture, medicine, and biodiversity. The program was successful by any standard: It developed important local capacities among the scientists and institutions of about two-dozen countries. Yet, the funding that supported the program, from the U.S. Agency for International Development, was subject to the annual congressional appropriations process. As a result, it was impossible to make even a 5-year commitment to the researchers that would have enabled them to do a far better job. The program was terminated just when continued funding for the researchers who had proven themselves might have had substantial payoffs.
Foundations Have a Good Record of Creating New Institutions
The creation of new institutions that are positioned to make a long-term contribution to a field is perhaps one of the most important roles foundations can play. In international science and technology, there are several good examples. Perhaps the most well known is the International Agricultural Research Centers. The centers were an outgrowth of the green revolution, itself a product of funding provided by the Rockefeller and Ford foundations to establish the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico. The centers have had a major impact on food production throughout the world.
Foundations Work Well Together
My experience has been that foundations are fairly good at consulting with one another and with other donor organizations in areas of mutual interest. Foundations have learned that many problems are too big or too complex to be addressed independently. The combined efforts of several organizations can often have a real impact. A good example is the Consultative Group on Biological Diversity. Through this mechanism, 35 foundations are able to coordinate their grantmaking in this important area.
Foundations Can Leverage Additional Funding
A prime example of how the seeds planted by foundations can lead to additional funding from other sources is—once again—the International Agricultural Research Centers. The importance of the first two research centers —on wheat and maize (Mexico) and rice (Philippines)—founded with Rockefeller and Ford support began to be recognized by national and multilateral aid agencies. The scores of millions of dollars provided by the foundations led to investments of hundreds of millions of dollars by other donors.
A more recent example of this type of leveraging involves the MacArthur Foundation. Important old-growth forests cover an area in Eastern Europe where Belarus, Ukraine, and Poland come together. A coordinated conservation program is badly needed if the forests are to be saved from encroaching development. The World Bank was interested in helping but had no mechanism for funding the multinational planning effort that would have to be the first step. Our grant of several hundred thousand dollars enabled a collaborative planning process to take place, and the resulting conservation project received tens of millions of dollars in funding through the World Bank's Global Environmental Facility.
By noting these special characteristics of foundations, I do not mean to imply that all that we do is wonderful and free of mistakes. We make mistakes that are sometimes very expensive, and we usually do not know about mistakes of omission—the grants we chose not to fund that might have produced wonderful results. Like all organizations, foundations need to regularly evaluate their methods and results, adjusting their objectives and strategies in light of experience.
A PERSPECTIVE ON THE FUTURE
In the future, foundation funding for international science and technology will change in emphasis but not in scale. Occasionally, foundations that have not previously done so will develop an interest in a particular area of science and technology, and some already-involved foundations will from time to time readjust their priorities. It is unlikely, however, that major new resources will be added to this area on a long-term basis.
Foundations today find the notion of strengthening entire disciplines in science and technology a daunting prospect. Unlike the 1920s and 1930s, the resources needed are too great and the outcomes too uncertain. Rather, foundations will continue to focus on particular problems and support the development of solutions. Foundations are now much less likely to support the development of new institutions than they were in the past. The focus, I am sure, will be increasingly on multidisciplinary approaches to problems that involve interinstitutional and international collaboration.
In choosing problems upon which to focus, foundations will be interested in whether an area of scientific endeavor is unattended or underfunded. If, for
example, the scientific community is not addressing a particular issue, we would probably be interested in determining what could be done to draw attention to the problem. Foundations like to be catalytic.
I should note in passing that every foundation has its own set of issues in which it is interested. As my friend and counterpart at The Rockefeller Foundation, Dr. Kenneth Prewitt, puts it: “Foundations are not banks, they're programs.” Those who seek foundation grants will do well to remember this and to try to show the links between their worthy project and the interests of the foundations they approach.
Due to the increasing scale and complexity of modern science and technology, as well as the global problems we face, foundations will rely more and more on donor consortia. Coordination of funding and even pooling of funds will be necessary to marshall a critical mass of resources. In forming consortia, foundations will need to ally themselves with nonfoundation donors, such as aid agencies and multinational banks. There will also be more collaboration with industrial groups in areas such as vaccine development, crop biotechnology, reproductive biology, and energy production and use.
Another trend that will continue is the interest of foundations in working directly with people and institutions in the countries where problems are located. Increasingly, foundation grants related to international science and technology will go to institutions abroad rather than to U.S. intermediaries. At the same time, it will be important to find imaginative ways to maintain connections between American scientists and engineers and their foreign counterparts, especially in developing countries. (The use of electronic networking is of great interest to foundations, and the utility of these systems will surely grow as the information and telecommunications revolution continues to provide new ways of linking people throughout the world.)
I have a strong personal interest in the implications that rapid changes in the world have for cooperation in international science and technology. There needs to be a careful examination of how well mechanisms for cooperation work, and ways must be found to strengthen the international science and technology infrastructure so that it will meet future needs. MacArthur and several other foundations are supporting a planning meeting in October 1995 that will consider this issue, and I am especially pleased to note that former NAE President Robert White will chair that session.
I have spoken at some length about foundations and their role in international science and technology. The picture I have painted is somewhat somber. Foundations provide a relatively small amount relative to the scope of the problems they address. Those resources seems unlikely to increase by much, if at all.
Yet, foundations can plant seeds that with proper nurturing and a dose of
good fortune can grow into flourishing institutions that sustain excellent work in vital fields. Foundations can encourage and enable the development of good science and imaginative uses of technology throughout the world.
In closing, let me emphasize how dependent we are on people such as you and institutions such as the National Academy of Engineering. Foundations generally have small staffs, predominantly composed of generalists. We need the ideas of the engineering and scientific communities about the best approaches to the problems that concern us all. We must turn to other institutions to help realize these ideas. We need your experience and wisdom to help evaluate our efforts, discard what is not working, and reinforce that which is.
I hope that we can continue to be partners in these important endeavors. The problems we face are too important to receive less than the best efforts of us all. We have not yet solved most of them, but we must keep trying in the spirit of a pretty good engineer named Thomas Edison, who said, “I have not failed 10,000 times. I have successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work.”
The World Bank. 1994. World Development Report 1994: Infrastructure for Development. New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press.