Letter from Steve McCormick
Saluting ambitious vision and commitment to execution
January 25, 2011
Large foundations like ours have the unique capacity and capability to provide two highly catalytic forms of support. One form could be characterized as “patient capital” – the commitment of long-term funding to a focused field or need, often with a strong orientation to the achievement of ambitious but measureable outcomes. The other form is more opportunistic – a pledge of substantial funding to a single grantee for a need that is particularly compelling, ripe, and even audacious in its potential for transformative impact.
The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation puts the preponderance of its resources to the first form of support, through what we call “initiatives.” But we also have made a small number of “big bets” on ideas that hold promise for major breakthroughs in areas of great interest to our founders. Each of these major commitments is at something of an inflection point in 2011. We greatly admire the vision, courage, risk and drive to execution exemplified by these grantees. I want to salute them by providing a brief insight on what they stand to accomplish.
Upon creation of the Foundation, the Board made an unprecedented ten-year commitment of up to $261 million to Conservation International (CI), the largest contribution ever from one donor to a single organization in the sector. The commitment expanded over time, to almost $400 million through 2011. This funding helped catapult CI into becoming an immensely effective, influential, and esteemed organization. In the past two years CI has undergone a dramatic change in mission, moving from a focus on creating protected areas to “empowering societies to responsibly and sustainably care for nature for the well-being of humanity” (emphasis mine). As we enter the latter stages of our relationship with CI as a formal commitment of the Foundation we are deeply impressed with what they’ve accomplished, and even more impressed with the promise they hold for the future.
Between 2003 and 2007, the Foundation committed $250 million to a joint venture between the University of California and Caltech to design and build the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT). The TMT is an undertaking of almost incomprehensible ambition. On completion, it will be the world’s largest optical telescope. With the TMT, astronomers will be able to locate and analyze the light from the first stellar systems born soon after the Big Bang, determine the physical processes governing the formation and evolution of galaxies like our own Milky Way, study planet formation around nearby stars, and make observations that test the fundamental laws of physics. The TMT is at a critical juncture; significant public support must be found this year to keep this dream alive.
The Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing within the University of California at Davis Health System was launched in 2007 with a commitment of $100 million from the Foundation, the largest grant ever for nursing education. As envisioned, the School will be a public/private partnership to create an outstanding, transformative professional school devoted to improving care for patients and advancing scientific knowledge through academic excellence, interprofessional education, and technological innovation. The school’s distinctive approach is to integrate the best of healthcare and scientific practices with multiple disciplines in higher education to create leaders in education, research, and practice at the patient’s bedside. The School admitted its inaugural class this academic year, but the budget crises in California make securing the necessary public funding enormously challenging.
William Blake observed that “execution is the chariot of genius.” We applaud Conservation International, the Thirty Meter Telescope, and the University of California at Davis for the genius of their ambitious visions, and the willing commitment to execution that it will take to realize them.
Steven J. McCormick
President, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation