How Billionaires Can Fund Moonshot Efforts to Save the World


Essay by Ivan Amato: “For the past year, since the 50th anniversary of the original moon landing and amid the harsh entrance and unfolding of a pandemic that has affected the entire globe’s citizenry, I have been running a philanthropy-supported publishing experiment on Medium.com titled the Moonshot CatalogThe goal has been to inspire the nation’s more than 2,000 ultrawealthy households to mobilize a smidgeon more — even 1 percent more — of their collective wealth to help solve big problems that threaten our future.

A single percent may seem a small fraction to devote. But when you consider that the richest families have amassed a net worth of more than $4 trillion, that 1 percent tops $40 billion — enough to make a real difference in any number of ways. This truth only magnifies now as we approach a more honest reality-based acknowledgment of the systemic racial and social inequities and injustices that have shunted so much wealth, privilege, and security into such a rarefied micropercentage of the world’s 7.8 billion people.

Such was the simple conceit underlying the Moonshot Catalog, which just came to a close: The deepest pocketed among us would up their philanthropy game if they were more aware of hugely consequential projects they could help usher to the finish line by donating a tad more of the wealth they control….

The first moonshot articles had titles including “Feeding 2050’s Ten Billion People,” “Taming the Diseases of Aging,” and the now tragically premonitional “Ending Pandemic Disease.” Subsequent articles featured achievable solutions for our carbon-emission crisis, including ones replacing current cement and cooling technologies, underappreciated perpetrators of climate change that are responsible for some 16 percent of the world’s carbon emissions; next-generation battery technology, without which much of the potential benefit of renewable energy will remain untapped; advanced nuclear-power plants safe enough to help enable a carbon-neutral economy; and hastening the arrival of fusion energy….

Common to these projects, and others such as the UN’s Sustainability Development Goals, is the huge and difficult commitment each one demands. Many require a unique, creative, and sustained synthesis of science, engineering, entrepreneurship, policy and financial support, and international cooperation.

But there is no magical thinking in the Catalog. The projects are demonstrably doable. What’s more, humanity already has successfully taken on comparably ambitious challenges. Think of the eradication of polio, the development of birth-control technologies, the mitigation of acid rain and the ozone hole, and the great, albeit imperfect, public-health win of municipal water treatment. Oh, and the 1969 moonshot….(More)”.

How Philanthropy Can Help Governments Accelerate a Real Recovery


Essay by Michele Jolin and David Medina: “The cracks and design flaws of our nation’s public systems have been starkly exposed as governments everywhere struggle to respond to health and economic crises that disproportionately devastate Black residents and communities of color. As government leaders respond to the immediate emergencies, they also operate within a legacy of government practices, policies and systems that have played a central role in creating and maintaining racial inequity. 

Philanthropy can play a unique and catalytic role in accelerating a real recovery by helping government leaders make smarter decisions, helping them develop and effectively use the data-and-evidence capacity they need to spotlight and understand root causes of community challenges, especially racial disparities, and increase the impact of government investments that could close racial gaps and accelerate economic opportunity. Philanthropy can uniquely support leaders within government who are best positioned to redesign and reimagine public systems to deliver equity and impact.

We are already seeing that the growing number of governments that have built data-driven “Moneyball” muscles are better positioned both to manage through this crisis and to dismantle racist government practices. While we recognize that data and evidence can sometimes reinforce biases, we also know that government decision-makers who have access to more and better information—and who are trained to navigate the nuance and possible bias in this information—can use data to identify disparate racial outcomes, understand the core problems and target resources to close gaps. Government decision-makers who have the skills to test, learn, and improve government programs can prioritize resource allocation toward programs that both deliver better results and address the complexity of social problems.

Philanthropy can accelerate this public sector transformation by supporting change led by internal government champions who are challenging the status quo. By doing so, philanthropic leaders can increase the impact of the trillions of dollars invested by governments each year. Philanthropies such as Ballmer Group, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Blue Meridian Partners, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Arnold Ventures understand this and are already putting their money where their mouths are. By helping governments make smarter budget and policy decisions, they can ensure that public dollars flow toward solutions that make a meaningful, measurable difference on our biggest challenges, whether it’s increasing economic mobility, reducing racial disparities in health and other outcomes, or addressing racial bias in government systems.

We need other donors to join them in prioritizing this kind of systems change….(More)”.

Philanthropy and the Future of Science and Technology


Book by Evan Michelson: “An increasingly important and often overlooked issue in science and technology policy is recognizing the role that philanthropies play in setting the direction of research. In an era where public and private resources for science are strained, the practices that foundations adopt to advance basic and applied research needs to be better understood. This first-of-its-kind study provides a detailed assessment of the current state of science philanthropy. This examination is particularly timely, given that science philanthropies will have an increasingly important and outsized role to play in advancing responsible innovation and in shaping how research is conducted.

Philanthropy and the Future of Science and Technology surveys the landscape of contemporary philanthropic involvement in science and technology by combining theoretical insights drawn from the responsible research and innovation (RRI) framework with empirical analysis investigating an array of detailed examples and case studies. Insights from interviews conducted with foundation representatives, scholars, and practitioners from a variety of sectors add real-world perspective. A wide range of philanthropic interventions are explored, focusing on support for individuals, institutions, and networks, with attention paid to the role that science philanthropies play in helping to establish and coordinate multi-sectoral funding partnerships. Novel approaches to science philanthropy are also considered, including the emergence of crowdfunding and the development of new institutional mechanisms to advance scientific research. The discussion concludes with an imaginative look into the future, outlining a series of lessons learned that can guide how new and established science philanthropies operate and envisioning alternative scenarios for the future that can inform how science philanthropy progresses over the coming decades.

This book offers a major contribution to the advancement of philanthropic investment in science and technology. Thus, it will be of considerable interest to researchers and students in public policy, public administration, political science, science and technology studies, sociology of science, and related disciplines….(More)”.

Modeling the Human Trajectory


David Roodman at Open Philanthropy: “… How much should we care about people who will live far in the future? Or about chickens today? What events could extinguish civilization? Could artificial intelligence (AI) surpass human intelligence?

One strand of analysis that has caught our attention is about the pattern of growth of human society over many millennia, as measured by number of people or value of economic production. Perhaps the mathematical shape of the past tells us about the shape of the future. I dug into that subject. A draft of my technical paper is here. (Comments welcome.) In this post, I’ll explain in less technical language what I learned.

It’s extraordinary that the larger the human economy has become—the more people and the more goods and services they produce—the faster it has grown on average. Now, especially if you’re reading quickly, you might think you know what I mean. And you might be wrong, because I’m not referring to exponential growth. That happens when, for example, the number of people carrying a virus doubles every week. Then the growth rate (100% increase per week) holds fixed. The human economy has grown super-exponentially. The bigger it has gotten, the faster it has doubled, on average. The global economy churned out $74 trillion in goods and services in 2019, twice as much as in 2000.1 Such a quick doubling was unthinkable in the Middle Ages and ancient times. Perhaps our earliest doublings took millennia.

If global economic growth keeps accelerating, the future will differ from the present to a mind-boggling degree. The question is whether there might be some plausibility in such a prospect. That is what motivated my exploration of the mathematical patterns in the human past and how they could carry forward. Having now labored long on the task, I doubt I’ve gained much perspicacity. I did come to appreciate that any system whose rate of growth rises with its size is inherently unstable. The human future might be one of explosion, perhaps an economic upwelling that eclipses the industrial revolution as thoroughly as it eclipsed the agricultural revolution. Or the future could be one of implosion, in which environmental thresholds are crossed or the creative process that drives growth runs amok, as in an AI dystopia. More likely, these impulses will mix.

I now understand more fully a view that shapes the work of Open Philanthropy. The range of possible futures is wide. So it is our task as citizens and funders, at this moment of potential leverage, to lower the odds of bad paths and raise the odds of good ones….(More)”.

Wisdom or Madness? Comparing Crowds with Expert Evaluation in Funding the Arts


Paper by Ethan R. Mollick and Ramana Nanda: “In fields as diverse as technology entrepreneurship and the arts, crowds of interested stakeholders are increasingly responsible for deciding which innovations to fund, a privilege that was previously reserved for a few experts, such as venture capitalists and grant‐making bodies. Little is known about the degree to which the crowd differs from experts in judging which ideas to fund, and, indeed, whether the crowd is even rational in making funding decisions. Drawing on a panel of national experts and comprehensive data from the largest crowdfunding site, we examine funding decisions for proposed theater projects, a category where expert and crowd preferences might be expected to differ greatly.

We instead find significant agreement between the funding decisions of crowds and experts. Where crowds and experts disagree, it is far more likely to be a case where the crowd is willing to fund projects that experts may not. Examining the outcomes of these projects, we find no quantitative or qualitative differences between projects funded by the crowd alone, and those that were selected by both the crowd and experts. Our findings suggest that crowdfunding can play an important role in complementing expert decisions, particularly in sectors where the crowds are end users, by allowing projects the option to receive multiple evaluations and thereby lowering the incidence of “false negatives.”…(More)”.

The Pledging Puzzle: How Can Revocable Promises Increase Charitable Giving


Paper by James Andreoni and Marta Serra-Garcia: “What is the value of pledges if they are often reneged upon? In this paper we show – both theoretically and experimentally – that pledges can be used to screen donors and to better understand their motives for giving. In return, nonprofit managers can use the information they glean from pledges to better target future charitable giving appeals and interventions to donors, such as expressions of gratitude. In an experiment, we find that offering the option to pledge gifts induces self-selection. If expressions of gratitude are then targeted to individuals who select into pledges, reneging can be significantly reduced. Our findings provide an explanation for the potential usefulness of pledges….(More)”.

Is it time to challenge the power of philanthropy?


Blog post by Magdalena Kuenkel: “Over the past six months, we’ve partnered with Nesta to explore some of these questions. In the “Foundation Horizon Scan,” unveiled at an event today with sector leaders, we take the long view to explore the future of philanthropic giving. In compiling the report, we reviewed relevant literature and spoke to over 30 foundation leaders and critics internationally to understand what the challenges to foundations’ legitimacy and impact mean in practice and how foundations are responding to them today. 

We learned about new grantmaking practices that give more power to grantees and/or beneficiaries and leverage the power of digital technologies. We heard about alternative governance models to address power imbalances and saw many more collaborative efforts (big and small) to address today’s complex challenges. We spoke to funders who prioritise place-based giving in order to ensure that beneficiaries’ voices are heard.

Alongside these practical responses, we also identified eight strategic areas where foundations face difficult trade-offs:

  • Power and control
  • Diversity
  • Transparency
  • Role in public sector delivery
  • Time horizons
  • Monitoring, evaluation and learning
  • Assets
  • Collaboration 

There are no simple solutions. When devising future strategies, foundations will inevitably have to make tradeoffs between different priorities. Pursuing one path might well mean forfeiting the benefits afforded by a different approach. Near-term vs. long-term? Supporting vs. challenging government? Measuring vs. learning?

The “Foundation Horizon Scan” is an invitation to explore these issues – it is directed at foundation leaders, boards, grantees and beneficiaries. What do you think is the role of philanthropy in the future and what share of power should they hold in society?… (More)”.

The World Is Complex. Measuring Charity Has to Be Too


Joy Ito at Wired: “If you looked at how many people check books out of libraries these days, you would see failure. Circulation, an obvious measure of success for an institution established to lend books to people, is down. But if you only looked at that figure, you’d miss the fascinating transformation public libraries have undergone in recent years. They’ve taken advantage of grants to become makerspaces, classrooms, research labs for kids, and trusted public spaces in every way possible. Much of the successful funding encouraged creative librarians to experiment and scale when successful, iterating and sharing their learnings with others. If we had focused our funding to increase just the number of books people were borrowing, we would have missed the opportunity to fund and witness these positive changes.

I serve on the boards of the MacArthur Foundation and the Knight Foundation, which have made grants that helped transform our libraries. I’ve also worked over the years with dozens of philanthropists and investors—those who put money into ventures that promise environmental and public health benefits in addition to financial returns. All of us have struggled to measure the effectiveness of grants and investments that seek to benefit the community, the environment, and so forth. My own research interest in the practice of change has converged with the research of those who are trying to quantify this change, and so recently, my colleague Louis Kang and I have begun to analyse the ways in which people are currently measuring impact and perhaps find methods to better measure the impact of these investments….(More)”.

Why Taking a Step Back From Social Impact Assessment Can Lead to Better Results


Article by By Anita Fuzi, Lidia Gryszkiewicz, & Dariusz Sikora: “Over the years, many social sector leaders have written about the difficulties of measuring social impact. Over the past few decades, they’ve called for more skilled analysts, the embedding of impact measurement in the broader investment process, and the development of impact measurement roadmaps. Yet measurement remains a constant challenge for the sector.

For once, let’s take a step back instead of looking further forward.

Impact assessments are important tools for learning about effective solutions to social challenges, but do they really make sense when an organization is not fully leveraging its potential to address those challenges and deliver positive impact in the first place? Should well-done impact assessment remain the holy grail, or should we focus on organizations’ ability to deliver impact? We believe that before diving into measurement, organizations must establish awareness of and readiness for impact in every aspect of their operations. In other words, they need to assess their social impact capability system before they can even attempt to measure any impact they have generated. We call this the “capability approach to social impact,” and it rests on an evaluation of seven different organizational areas….

The Social Impact Capability Framework

When organizations do not have the right support system and resources in place to create positive social impact, it is unlikely that actual attempts at impact assessment will succeed. For example, measuring an organization’s impact on the local community will not bear much fruit if the organization’s strategy, mission, vision, processes, resources, and values are not designed to support local community involvement in the first place. It is better to focus on assessing impact readiness level—whether an organization is capable of delivering the impact it wishes to deliver—rather than jumping into the impact assessment itself.Examining these seven capability areas can help organizations determine their readiness for creating impact.

To help assess this, we created a diagnostic tool— based on extensive literature review and our advisory experience—that evaluates seven capability areas: strategic framework, process, culture and leadership, structure and system, resources, innovation, and the external environment. Organizations rate each area on a scale from one to five, with one being very low/not important and five being very high/essential. Ideally, representatives from all departments complete the assessment collectively to ensure that everyone is on the same page….(More)”.

Who represents the human in the digital age?


Anni Rowland-Campbell at NPC: “In his book The Code Economy Philip E. Auerswald talks about the long history of humans developing codeas a mechanism by which to create and regulate activities and markets.[1] We have Codes of Practice, Ethical Codes, Building Codes, and Legal Codes, just to name a few.

Each and every one of these is based on the data of human behaviour, and that data can now be collected, analysed, harvested and repurposed as never before through the application of intelligent machines that operate and are instructed by algorithms. Anything that can be articulated as an algorithm—a self-contained sequence of actions to be performed—is now fertile ground for machine analysis, and increasingly machine activity.

So, what does this mean for us humans who, are ourselves a conglomeration of DNA code? I have spent many years thinking about this. Not that long ago my friends and family tolerated my speculations with good humour, but a fair degree of scepticism. Now I run workshops for boards and even my children are listening far more intently. Because people are sensing that the invasion of the ‘Social Machine’ is changing our relationship with such things as privacy, as well as with both ourselves and each other. It is changing how we understand our role as humans.

The Social Machine is the name given to the systems we have created that blur the lines between computational processes and human input, of which the World Wide Web is the largest and best known example. These ‘smart machines’ are increasingly pervading almost every aspect of human existenceand, in many ways, getting to know us better than we know ourselves.

So who stands up for us humans? Who determines how society will harness and utilise the power of information technologies whilst ensuring that the human remain both relevant and important?…

Philanthropists must equip themselves with the knowledge they need in order to do good with digital

Consider the Luddites as they smashed the looms in the early 1800s. Their struggle is instructive because they were amongst the first to experience technological displacement. They sensed the degradation of human kind and they fought for social equality and fairness in the distribution of the benefits of science and technology to all. If knowledge is power, philanthropy must arm itself with knowledge of digital to ensure the power of digital lies with the many and not the few.

The best place to start in understanding the digital world as it stands now is to begin to see the world, and all human activities, through the lens of data and as a form of digital currency. This links back to the earlier idea of codes. Our activities, up until recently, were tacit and experiential, but now they are becoming increasingly explicit and quantified. Where we go, who we meet, what we say, what we do is all being registered, monitored and measured as long as we are connected to the digital infrastructure.

A new currency is emerging that is based on the world’s most valuable resource: data. It is this currency that connects the arteries and capillaries, and reaches across all disciplines and fields of expertise. The kind of education that is required now is to be able to make connections and to see the opportunities in the interstice between policy and day-to-day reality.

The dominant players in this space thus far have been the large corporations and governments that have harnessed and exploited digital currencies for their own benefit. Shoshana Zuboff describes this as the ‘surveillance economy’. But this data actually belongs to each and every human who generates it. As people begin to wake up to this we are gradually realising that this is what fuels the social currency of entrepreneurship, leadership and innovation, and provides the legitimacy upon which trust is based.

Trust is an outcome of experiences and interactions, but governments and corporations have transactionalised their interactions with citizens and consumer through exploiting data. As a consequence they have eroded the esteem with which they are held. The more they try to garner greater insights through data and surveillance, the more they alienate the people they seek to reach.

If we are smart what we need to do, as philanthropists, is to understand the fundamentals of data as a currency and integrate this in to each and every interaction we have. This will enable us to create relationships with the people that are based on the authenticity of purpose, supported by the data of proof. Yes, there have been some instances where the sector has not done as well as it could and betrayed that trust. But this only serves as a lesson as to how fragile the world of trust and legitimacy are. It shows how crucial it is that we define all that we do in terms of social outcomes and impact, however that is defined….(More)”