Challenging the RRI framework: remaking and dissolving the philanthropic form
The fourth alternative approach to science philanthropy is, in many ways, perhaps the most extreme of all and the one that may push the boundaries of the RRI framework. Developments that fall into this category are those that are looking to break apart and perhaps dissolve the philanthropic form altogether, especially in terms of new donor institutions getting established in ways that are radically different from what has come before. In particular, some of the more recently established science and technology funding organizations in the United States are eschewing the traditional non-profit form of institutional philanthropy and, instead, are being set-up in a corporate form known as the limited liability company. The utilization of this approach gained widespread attention when CZI was being established as an LLC, yet the use of this corporate form goes beyond CZI. Along with CZI, both the Omidyar Network and the Emerson Collective, founded by Laurene Powell Jobs, are structured as LLCs (Singer & Isaac, 2015; Montgomery, 2018). There is much debate about the benefits and drawbacks surrounding the establishment of donor institutions as LLCs. Since funding entities established as LLCs act “partly like a corporation and partly like a business partnership,” they provide the founding donor with more control over the distribution of funds, ability to invest in “for-profit social enterprises and also supporting political causes,” do not require adherence to the annual foundation payout rules, and provide more privacy in that they do not “necessitate the same kinds of disclosures of public tax documents” (Singer & Isaac, 2015, p. Bl).
As one analysis of the rise of LLCs in the philanthropic ecosystem by Dana Brakman Reiser (2018) states, these organizations can operate in almost any way they choose, as they “can make charitable grants, manage a diverse portfolio of investments, and engage in political advocacy—all free of the limitations and disclosure obligations to which private foundations are subject” (p. 26). On the other hand, there are critiques that moving away from the traditional construct of the non-profit foundation reduces accountability, challenges transparency, and weakens the independence that these institutions have from their founding donors (Daniels & Wallace, 2015; Lenkowsky, 2015). Reiser (2018) puts this concern most directly by noting that the rise of these philanthropic LLCs not only “gives its founders and leaders carte blanche to make any investment decisions they wish” (p. 29), but there is “very real concern that growth in LLC structures will magnify philanthropy’s already problematic elitist nature” (p. 33). She concludes that while “private foundations are hardly democratic paragons...the for-profit LLC structure guarantees the public even less ability to examine, understand, and influence a philanthropy’s activities,” potentially raising “the risk of amplifying the antidemocratic elements of elite philanthropy and their consequences for society” (p. 33).
As has been discussed so far throughout this book, a number of recently formed philanthropic LLCs have been substantially involved in providing
Novel modes of responsibility 175 support for scientific research or resources for efforts investigating the connection between science and society. For instance, in addition to the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub program discussed above, CZI supports a range of programs in the biomedical fields, including building connections between patient communities and rare disease experts, developing an atlas of human cells, and funding data science efforts to improve the sharing of research results within the scientific community (Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, 2019). Omidyar Network has coalesced some of its resources around addressing the topic of “beneficial technology” and supports education, research, and networking activities that look to strengthen the connections between technology' and society and, as they state, redefine “how tech is created and used in order to articulate a human-centered vision of technology” (Omidyar Network, 2016). One of the main technology-oriented domains of the Emerson Collective relates to addressing the link between environmental and human challenges, in part by investing in companies are developing, testing, and deploying new technological solutions to address climate change (Emerson Collective, 2019).
Beyond the rise of LLCs as a vehicle for new forms of deploying philanthropic-like capital, there are other kinds of interventions that existing philanthropic institutions can utilize to bring to bear investment-like modalities to science philanthropy while simultaneously achieving societal impact. One report points out that in addition to traditional programmatic grantmaking given to non-profit entities conducting basic scientific research, such as universities, foundations are also able to deploy other funding mechanisms, including marshalling the corpus of their endowment, to provide various kinds of investment capital for science and technology start-ups and companies. “Other, under-utilized tools are available, from traditional grants into for-profit start-ups on the one end, to program- or mission-related investments, through to traditional (fiduciary) investment vehicles on the other,” write Nicole Systrom, Sarah Kearney, and Fiona Murray (Systrom, Kearney, & Murray, 2017, p. 6). As they note, there are instances where foundations might be able to make grants to for-profit science and technology' enterprises, which involves additional oversight responsibilities for the philanthropy, or even taking equity stakes of various kinds in science or technology companies. Philanthropic organizations can also make program related investments (PRIs), which are charitable investments with the potential to be paid back over time, and mission related investments (MSIs), which are investments made from a foundation’s endowment that are aligned with its broader societal interests. Additionally, philanthropies can provide funding to non-profit intermediaries or sponsoring organizations, which then can re-grant to for-profit entities. These intermediary entities, often called donor advised funds (DAFs), account for about 10% of total charitable giving and can be appealing because these organizations are able to hold funding on behalf of donors and then subsequently' make grants over time (Macpherson, Kearney, & Murray, 2017). DAFs can pool funds from multiple donors, facilitating the ability' to give larger amounts of money to particular institutions or causes. Moreover, donor advisedfunds typically conduct research to analyze the state of various fields and identify potential grantees in order to help funders understand how to direct their resources. These kinds are services are particularly valuable for funders interested in science and technology, for as was discussed in Chapter 6, new donors often face difficulties and barriers to entry when it comes to navigating the landscape of various science and technology fields in which they may have little experience.
Some authors have argued that philanthropies should do more to adopt these and other novel modes of deploying capital, which has become known as the field of impact investing (Bugg-Levine & Emerson, 2011), in the service of funding scientific research. In one article, Kearney, Murray, and Nordan (2014) write “philanthropists.. .are overlooking the middle ground that lies between their grantmaking to universities and their investment in venture funds,” arguing that “philanthropy and impact investment communities can join to create new vehicles that support the creation, translation, and deployment of socially beneficial innovations” (p. 50). Their article highlights a number of examples of foundations that have made these kinds of alternative investments to help new technologies cross the “valley of death” (or, as they write, the “idea-to-impact gap”) that often plague new scientific discoveries from translating and scaling into new technological innovations (Kearney, Murray, & Nordan, 2014, p. 50). As they conclude, there is the potential to build “a philanthropic bridge between the ivory tower and traditional capital markets” and a need for “philanthropists of all stripes to pioneer new forms of philanthropic investment—new approaches that support the kind of innovation that the world desperately needs” (Kearney, Murray, & Nordan, 2014, p. 55).
Perhaps nowhere is this need greater than deploying innovative philanthropic capital vehicles to address the challenge of climate change. In an article co-written by some of the authors quoted in the previous paragraph, they argue that these under-utilized forms of early stage capital from the philanthropic sector have unique potential to support “unexplored or nascent climate solutions” (Burger, Murray, Kearney, & Ma, 2018, p. 34). The reason for this is that developing solutions to climate change requires the kinds of financial resources that are hard to secure from other sources. “They require relatively long technical development timelines, demand capital-intensive demonstration tests that may yield negative results, tend not to receive financial valuations commensurate with technology companies of similar sizes or stages, or exist in subsectors that have delivered low financial returns over the past decade” (Burger, Murray, Kearney, & Ma, 2018, p. 34). In particular, the authors of a recent blog post on this topic argue that foundations have a unique role to play in advancing research and analysis in the area of negative emissions and carbon dioxide removal interventions, which aim to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere through various means (Plechaty, Amador, & Mazurek, 2019). Options for investigation include direct capture of carbon dioxide from the ambient air, storage of carbon dioxide in rocks through
Novel inodes of responsibility 177 accelerated mineralization processes, enhanced sequestration of carbon in soils and crops, and solutions that involve using the ocean as carbon sinks. There are many opportunities for deploying multiple kinds of philanthropic interventions—from grants to PRIs to MSIs and beyond—to advance such lines of inquiry, with foundations being “in a unique position to accelerate progress” and able to “take on risks that governments or the private sector can’t or won’t” (Plechaty, Amador, & Mazurek, 2019). While only a tiny fraction of philanthropic funding for climate change has been directed into these novel areas of research (Nisbet, 2018; Center for Carbon Removal, 2016), there are a number of opportunities for increased grantmaking on these novel solutions that philanthropic and government funders can pursue (Energy Futures Initiative, 2019).
Beyond addressing climate change, these alternative approaches to giving can have an impact in other areas as well, especially when coupled with the innovations that are taking place surrounding the utilization of DAFs. “The valley of death faced by many of today’s most promising ideas in biotechnology, energy, infrastructure, and education requires a patient form of capital only found in philanthropy,” states one report on the potential of using DAFs to support science and technology, and that “transitioning more breakthrough ideas from lab bench to market, however, requires DAF participation at scale” (Macpherson, Kearney, & Murray, 2017, pp. 14—15). For instance, a relatively new donor advised fund established in 2015 in the United Kingdom, called Founders Pledge, has emphasized conducting overview analyses on a variety of topic areas in the natural and social sciences, conducted by a number of inhouse research experts (Founders Pledge, 2019a). Areas covered in these research reports include the challenges posed by extreme existential risks (Halstead, 2019), policy analysis (Capriati, 2018), and climate change (Halstead, 2018), just to name a few. Founders Pledge has received funding from the Open Philanthropy Project and uses some similar selection and analysis criteria as was discussed above—such as “scale” of the problem, potential for “tractability,” and degree of “neglectedness”—to identify promising intervention opportunities (Goldberg, 2018). As a sign of interest in these kinds of DAFs, Founders Pledge has already grown quickly in a short period of time, with nearly $2 billion in total amount pledged, over $400 million in fulfilled grantmaking commitments, and over 1200 giving members from over 30 countries (Founders Pledge, 2019b).