Quick solutions and big risks

Moonshots, risking failure, and 5 links worth your time

If you are able and willing to cast your mind back to the spring of 2020, before we knew the extent of the threat COVID presented (before we even started saying “COVID,” before we had vaccines), you may recall a strong sense of despair and helplessness. 

Though we may often feel divided in this country, I think it’s fair to say that on this one thing, we were united.

Now, if you can, hold that memory alongside your current state of mind with respect to COVID. Perhaps we’re not back to the carefree days of 2019, but I think most of us are starting to return to our normal routines and interactions. 

How did we get here?

Fast grants and scientific failure

Our current podcast guest, Dr. Shruti Rajagopalan, spoke with us about some of the ways we’ve moved from helplessness to hopefulness in the last year, and she talked about her work at Emergent Ventures India. 

Shruti and her colleagues recognize that progress, scientific or otherwise, doesn’t happen in a straight line and, sometimes, we’ll experience multiple failures before we design solutions that work consistently. Philanthropic and government funders are careful, taking their time to ensure investment in projects that have a high chance of success. As a result, they often won’t approve expenditures on research without months or years of review.

During the pandemic, philanthropy and government changed the rules to allow fast development of vaccines and other efforts to address COVID and its effects. The results were remarkable, and vaccines were developed in record-breaking time. What if we could replicate these results in other areas and outside of crises? That’s the question Shruti and Emergent Ventures try to answer in their rapid-response grant-making.

High risk, high reward

I hope you’ll listen to the podcast and hear Shruti’s amazing story and learn about the work she and her colleagues are doing to support ideas that can change the world. In our five links, you can read more about the background of Emergent Ventures and the Fast Grants program supported by some of Silicon Valley’s brightest minds at the outset of the pandemic. You’ll also find Shruti’s thoughts on vaccination policy for India and an opinion piece that raises important questions about the way government funding of science works. 

I’m sure, like me, you are thrilled that life is starting to look like it used to, but I imagine you’re also anxious for us to do everything we can to make the future brighter and the world better. Our podcast and links this week offer plenty of reasons for hope!

5 links worth your time

  1. Here’s how Emergent Ventures–the high-risk, high-reward grant program–all started. 
  2. This rapid-response grant making program committed over $40M to funding Fast Grant awardees. 
  3. Lessons learned—and some big surprises—from the Fast Grants program. 
  4. Three essential steps for India’s COVID vaccine policy.  
  5. COVID-19 vaccines prove that wild ideas and repeated failure are a key part of scientific success.

Photo by Negro Elkha on Adobe Stock