In 2008, Jeff Skoll set out to test whether a limited-life organization with $100 million and a band of driven and skillful “threat-ologists” could make progress against five of the gravest threats to humanity — climate change, pandemics, water security, nuclear proliferation, and conflict in the Middle East. After spending down the original $100 million gift, the Skoll Global Threats Fund (SGTF) experiment is now coming to an end. Jeff Skoll’s philanthropy and commitment to global threats will continue, informed by lessons learned at SGTF. The work is being reorganized, spun out, and unified with Jeff’s core philanthropic enterprise, the Skoll Foundation.
Our pandemics work has demonstrated what’s possible to improve early detection and response to disease outbreaks. Leveraging strong public interest in pandemics due to Ebola, Zika, and more, SGTF is now taking its Ending Pandemics initiative independent, allowing it to focus exclusively on its mission of detecting, verifying, and reporting potential disease outbreaks faster. For more information, please visit endingpandemics.org
The Climate Advocacy Lab, rolled out in 2015 to promote evidence-based advocacy, is growing in membership, activities, and interest. We have incubated the Lab to date, but are now shifting the Lab to be community-owned, independent of SGTF, since only broad embrace of evidence-based practices will improve sector effectiveness as a whole. The Lab will become part of shared infrastructure for the climate and clean energy sector to enhance collaborative campaigns. For more information, please go climateadvocacylab.org
Our resilience and water security work has focused on how climate and water shocks propagate through the international system and how to head-off consequent tensions. We are exiting grantmaking in this space, but have provided transition support to New America, the MIT Co-Lab, and several more groups to build off these efforts going forward.
On nuclear nonproliferation, we have focused on reducing risk through public engagement and policy innovation. We have also done exploratory work to examine threats from emerging technologies, including cybersecurity and artificial intelligence. This work will continue at the Skoll Foundation (skoll.org).
The Skoll Global Threat Fund has done impactful work to advance change on difficult, potentially catastrophic global challenges. We have learned much over these last eight years on what works, and what doesn’t, and have put together a high-level assessment of lessons learned that we hope can be useful. (You can find that here.) These lessons will help inform Jeff’s philanthropy for the next decade and beyond and are particularly relevant as he brings on new leadership in 2018 to the Skoll Foundation to help lead all his philanthropic work.
There is no straight line for progress on global threats. The threats we set out to work on in 2008 continue to evolve, and new threats have since emerged. While we are proud of SGTF’s contributions, there is much urgent work to do. We sincerely hope we’ve explored some paths for working on global threats that others can build on. That work is risky by nature, requiring novel collaboration, a hardworking and humbly ambitious team, an ability to fail forward, and ceaseless optimism about the transformative potential of solutions despite the daunting scale of the threat. We urge others to take the leap and join the fight against threats to humanity. The risks of inaction are too great to stay on the sidelines.
How safe are we from an ebola, Zika, H7N9, or MERS outbreak? How can we prevent a bioterrorist attack or lab accidents? Public health expert Brilliant will discuss today’s growing pandemic risks.
Brilliant was the executive director of Google.org and chaired the Presidential Advisory Committee on Bio-Surveillance. He lived in India for more than 10 years working as a United Nations medical officer, where he played a key role in the success World Health Organization smallpox eradication program in South Asia. He also co-founded The Seva Foundation, an international NGO whose programs and grantees have given back sight to more than 3.5 million blind people in more than 20 countries.
The Participatory One Health Disease Detection project (PODD) we’re supporting in Thailand with partners Chiang Mai University and OpenDream is an innovative new way to try to track disease outbreaks in animals to help reduce the change of spread to humans. A new video in the Bangkok Post, in Thai but with English subtitles, provides a nice overview of the initiative. You can watch it here.
We’re working with Chiang Mai University and several local partners on a participatory surveillance initiative in Chiang Mai province in Thailand to see if self reporting on both human and animal symptoms can lead to better outcomes in limiting disease outbreaks. The project, PODD CM One Health, has been in the field for over a year now and we’re finding interesting results. The PODD team has created a series of videos, in English, that help explain different aspects of the work. You can watch one below that shows how the PODD system responds to an outbreak signal, and find the rest on PODD’s YouTube page here.
N Square, the collaborative we’re supporting to bring new players and new ideas into the nuclear realm, presented at PopTech’s annual shindig a couple of weeks back. Erika Gregory, N Square’s executive director and Carl Robichaud, who leads the nuclear work at the Carnegie Corporation of New York, one of the collaborative’s funding partners (along with the Hewlett and MacArthur Foundations, the Ploughshares Fund and us), presented from the main stage. Their talk provides good insights into why people should care about the nuclear issue and how N Square is working to reframe how people approach it. Have a look!
N Square, the initiative we’re supporting along with other leading nuclear funders to bring new ideas and new players into the nuclear security realm, has just launched a gaming challenge with Games for Change. There’s a $10,000 prize for developing a game that engages and educates people on nuclear risks. More detail are here.
We provided some support for a climate change-focused Angry Birds Friends tournament, which kicked off today. We hope to be able to get good insights from the game about what kinds of climate messages seem to engage players the most. Plus, it’s fun! So we hope you’ll play. The Angry Birds folks were able to enlist a lot of global celebrities in creating the game. Watch the launch video below.
We, along with our partners OpenDream, Epitrack, and InSTEDD, are hosting an EpiHack in Rio to explore the potential for participatory disease surveillance at mass gatherings. By letting people report on their own symptoms, can we get a better handle on disease outbreaks at big events like the World Cup, music festivals, the Olympics and more? We helped support a pilot project for mass gathering surveillance for the World Cup in Brazil last year. This week in Rio, hackers and public health officials from 11 countries around the world will work to develop concepts and, potentially, a prototype application for participatory surveillance for mass gatherings generally. You can track developments via the hashtag #hackforhealth, or following our partners twitter feeds at @epitrack, @opendream, @instedd, or @epihack.