Fighting COVID-19 with philanthropy

Charitable donations have played a vital role in vaccine development, and could help prepare the next generation for future health crises.


When the COVID-19 pandemic is finally defeated, history will record that the U.S. country music star Dolly Parton played a vital role. Why? Because in April 2020 she donated $1m to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, and thereby helped to fund clinical trials for the vaccine developed by U.S. biotechnology firm Moderna. “I just felt so proud to have been part of that little seed money that will hopefully grow into something great and help to heal this world,” she told the BBC’s The One Show.


Ms. Parton’s story was a salutary reminder that some forms of medical research (importantly, critical, early stage research) can be difficult to fund without philanthropic help, and especially difficult to fund during a time of crisis. But although it was arguably one of the most high-profile stories of its kind in 2020, many other donations by wealthy individuals, families, foundations and businesses have made a difference – and continue to be critical – as the world battles the pandemic, its aftermath and prepares for the possibility of future crises.

How philanthropy helped develop the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine

As our report from Oxford shows (see video above), it was funding from donors such as Bulgari, the Italian luxury brand, that enabled graduate students to work around the clock for 10 months – not only to help develop the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine but also to hone the broad range of skills they will need as vaccinologists.


“Recruiting international students is absolutely at the heart of everything we do in Oxford,” says Sir John Bell, Regius Professor of Medicine at the university, commenting on the need to train vaccinologists who can lead vaccine development and roll-out programmes in multiple countries, and thereby protect the whole world from future pandemics. “Obviously there are financial challenges to that, particularly if you want to recruit students based on their ability, rather than on their ability to pay.”


Oxford’s Global Health Scholarships programme has been designed “to give the world’s best minds the opportunity to develop and study in a stimulating learning environment, no matter what their background or where they come from,” and you can find out more about this initiative at the website of the university’s development office, here.

Planning your philanthropy for maximum impact

“The pandemic has led to a wave of philanthropy, and not just because scientific research (especially early stage) can be difficult to fund via other means,” says Jacqueline Valouch, Head of Philanthropy at Deutsche Bank Wealth Management. “The COVID-19 crisis has shone a spotlight on a number of social inequities, and as a result many families have made urgent changes to their grant-making and other giving arrangements.”


Wealthy families often think generations ahead, she points out, and as such are very conscious of the need to contribute to long-term impactful initiatives. Next generation clients are particularly keen to support talented members of their own generation, to help prepare the world for major challenges of the future. Across the board, philanthropists are collaborating more with others, working closely with the causes they care about and looking to be thoughtful partners rather than just making monetary donations.


“If you’re at home like most of us and wondering how you and your family can make more of a difference,” she says, “we would love to have a conversation with you.”


To find out more about how to create a philanthropic plan or make your giving more effective, please get in touch.

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