Iris B. Evans, the first Executive Director of the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, once remarked “We want to not only give a grant, but to invest in the person. We want to get to know them, to establish a relationship with them.”
The Burroughs Wellcome Fund celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2015, and her words still ring true—perhaps now more than ever.
When I reflect upon what has made the Burroughs Wellcome Fund a successful organization, I think our willingness to invest in personal relationships has been perhaps our most powerful asset.
We do not simply fund research. We create opportunities for researchers to engage with one another, sparking conversations and collaborations. We cultivate a diverse community of peers and mentors, so our award recipients can brainstorm and innovate across institutions and disciplines. We support our awardees in their maturing careers, so they can navigate and negotiate the business of academia towards advancement. We want our investment in a researcher to last more than just one project or award cycle—but for the lifetime of impact they will have on biomedical science.
In 2015 we again invested in a remarkable group of scientists and had the opportunity to welcome them to the Burroughs Wellcome Fund family at our annual new awardee meeting, hosted at the Fund’s headquarters in October. Here, these promising investigators shared the unique visions and inventive approaches of their research questions with their new colleagues—including past award recipients—and had their first taste of the Burroughs Wellcome community that will be there to support them as they launch their careers.
We continued to invest in improving science education in North Carolina—giving back to our home state by energizing resources for STEM: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. We supported programs that put critical thinking and the excitement of discovery directly into the hands of K-12 kids. We provided career awards to proven STEM teachers so they can inspire others with education innovations. And we leveraged the resources and insights of the NC Science Mathematics and Technology Education Center to amplify our goal of advancing meaningful STEM opportunities for students in our state.
And in giving, we had the privilege of making three one million dollar endowment grants to organizations in which we have had a strong and long term relationship—the Marine Biological Laboratory, the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, and the North Carolina Science Festival.
Since 1994, the Fund has given away more than $550 million in grants, while growing our endowment from $420 million to $720 million. But as the Fund looks towards its next 60 years, we will be looking beyond mere numbers to measure the capital gain of our investments.
At the Fund’s annual Board of Directors meeting in May, past chair Dr. George Langford spoke to us about his childhood as an African-American growing up in a segregated, rural North Carolina. He recalled his individual struggles, but also the community of supporters and advisers who shepherded his eventual success.
Stories like Dr. Langford’s renew and inform our dedication to investing in the person. We will continue our mission of advancing biomedical science by supporting research and other educational activities, but with awareness and an eye towards opportunity for diverse voices and career guidance. We will continue to nourish research talents, skills, and fields in need of attention, filling gaps to advance the whole. And we will continue to cultivate our community of scientists, educators, and worthy organizations—seeking the brightest and most promising in their fields to assist them towards unimagined possibilities.
When we make personal investments, we help nurture and advance the entire biomedical research enterprise—and, in turn, help confer good health and knowledge to all. These are worthy gains no number can quantify.
John E. Burris, Ph.D.
Burroughs Wellcome Fund