Scientific philanthropy: what has been done and the future of the practice

“It is not possible to think about sustainable development without considering scientific development”. This was one of the statements made by Dr. Marcos Kisil, a physician and founder of IDIS, during the First International Seminar ‘Science meets Philanthropy.’ Throughout a full day at the University of São Paulo (USP), leaders from various fields discussed the landscape, examples, strategies, and future of the relationship between the development of science and philanthropy, both in Brazil and internationally.

The event was organized by Gema Filantropia (Group of Studies on Models to Support Science) – an initiative of IEA-USP (Institute of Advanced Studies of USP) – and the José Luiz Egydio Setúbal Foundation, with support from IDIS. The goal is to stimulate collaboration between the scientific and philanthropic communities in Brazil. Leaders from universities, research institutes, philanthropic entities, funding agencies, government authorities in Science and Technology, and researchers engaged in the cause gathered at the meeting.

Throughout the day, the current homogeneity of funding in the field of science was emphasized, mainly provided by the governmental sector. The opportunity for the philanthropic sector to collaborate in these investments was highlighted, given its independence and capacity for experimentation and risk-taking, important and beneficial characteristics for the scientific field. Philanthropy has played an increasingly significant role in supporting science and technology, something that is still in its infancy in Brazil but already well-established in countries like the United States, England, Canada, and the European Community. The term ‘science philanthropy’ was coined to describe this trend.

During the panel ‘Discussion about the needs and proposals for a legal environment favorable to philanthropy in science’, alongside Laís de Figueiredo Lopes, partner at SBSA Advogados, Paula Fabiani, CEO of IDIS, emphasized philanthropic endowments as a strategic alternative for financial sustainability in science funding. These endowments, created to receive donations for specific causes or organizations, allow received resources to remain invested, with only the returns being used to fund the cause. She also presented an overview of the agenda for endowments in the legislature, which currently includes two Bills proposing incentives for donations to endowments.

The science has its own maturation time, requires experimentation, and demands long-term investment. Endowment funds enable the cause to have long-lasting resources, taking whatever time is necessary,” comments Paula.

The mechanism of endowment funds is already used by several scientific organizations around the world, such as the NIH Common Fund, Harvard University, The Endowment for Basic Science, and in Brazil, the USP Endowment, the FMUSP Medicine Endowment, among others.

Hélio Nogueira Cruz, a member of the Faculty of Economics and Administration of USP and former advisor to IDIS, indicated in the panel ‘Contributions and projects of the University of São Paulo in the field of scientific philanthropy’ that, despite the gains from the mechanism, there is still much to be done. “The experience with endowment funds is recent, and there is enormous room for their evolution,” he said.

Reinforcing international collaboration and seeking inspiration from other parts of the globe, the event also featured the remote presence of Joseph R. Betancourt, president of the Commonwealth Fund. The American organization directs its fund resources to support independent research on health-related issues, seeking to promote greater access and quality of care, especially for people in situations of social and economic vulnerability.

Dr. Marcos Kisil participated in the panel ‘Strategies and future actions to strengthen scientific philanthropy in Brazil’, highlighting the importance of philanthropy as direct support for scientific development. “I think scientific issues begin to have greater prominence in society when you disclose that development cannot occur through cyclical processes but must be through a permanent and sustainable process throughout history, which scientific philanthropy can directly support,” he comments.

At another moment, he indicated how philanthropy is indeed a powerful tool and platform but can also be misused by its holders. “You have philanthropists who deny science to such an extent that they are now financiers of the anti-vaccine movement in the United States. Showing that this power, this influence, these communication networks, can be contrary to science,” he says.

At the end of the event, there was the launch of his new book ‘Philanthropy at Risk: from scientific development to sustainable development’, which explores the need for deepening the relationship between philanthropy and science in Brazil, with practical examples of what is already being done, and furthering the discussions raised throughout the event.

“Although it is impossible to predict exactly what we will find with a new scientific tool, we must remember that science is not limited to expected results: the entire process generates knowledge, discoveries, and learning for researchers. Supporting science is never a waste of resources”.

(MYHRVOLD, 2000)