David Bornstein is what many would consider a rare bird — an optimistic and forward-looking journalist.
Bornstein is also one of my favorite writers on aid and development issues, for the New York Times Opinionator column and as an author of a number of important books including one on the anti-poverty scheme known as microfinance, The Price of a Dream, and his more recent book How to Change the World, a look at the social enterprise movement.
On Thursday, it was announced that Bornstein and his NYTimes colleague Tina Rosenberg were among the winners of 90 new grants, each of which starts out at $100,000, from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Grand Challenges Explorations program.
That wasn’t quite right: Bornstein later responded, after the awards were announced, that he and Rosenberg will not receive any of the grant money and are only collaborating on the Gates-funded project at Marquette University.
“We are cooperating with Marquette. But they prepared the proposal and they will be doing all the work and receiving the full grant.”
Here’s what the Gates Foundation said in announcing the grant winner: “The Institute for Transformation of Learning at Marquette University, USA, will partner with David Bornstein (How to Change the World) and Tina Rosenberg (Pulitzer prize-winning The Haunted Land) to build the first Wiki-style platform that packages solutions-journalism (specifically NYTimes Fixes columns) into mini-case-studies for educators around the world to embed in, and across, the curriculum.”
I missed the nuance there. Sorry about that.
Bornstein, who contacted me after this post was published, said the NY Times prohibits them from accepting grant money (for work done at NYTimes) and they are unpaid collaborators with Marquette, allowing them to repurpose their columns and to help them think through the process.
The Grand Challenges Exploration program was created by the Gates Foundation mostly to fund ‘wacky’ (aka high risk) scientific projects and that’s mostly still what it has supported among its 800 projects funded to date.
One example pictured at right: Agenor Mafra-Neto and his colleagues are building inexpensive laser bug sensors that accurately count and identify flying insect pests from a distance. Because it’s always good to know exactly how many and which types of bugs there are.
Anyway, you can read more about the latest round of wacky scientific winners at the philanthropy’s website.
I’m going to focus on Bornstein, as an example of how the Grand Challenges initiative has expanded its scope to include funding communications efforts that show “Aid is Working.” Continue reading