End of Year Letter: 2022End of Year Letter
The world is awful. The world is much better. The world can be much better.
The world is awful. 2022 brought war; an energy crisis; ever-evolving disease. Extreme poverty increased for a second year in a row. Life expectancy in the US at birth dropped to its lowest level in 25 years. Pandemic-driven drops in children’s learning are creating some of the worst challenges for education in decades.
The world is much better. More people are living better lives than at any time in human history. More than 70% of the world’s population has now received a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. The largest single-country scholarship program for refugees worldwide launched.
The world can be much better. New scientific breakthroughs have unlocked possibility — from the potential to power the world more cleanly through nuclear fusion, to combat diseases by reimagining the basic meaning of life and death, to give more people access to opportunity through electrification, to harness technologies ranging from artificial intelligence to biology for good.
In 2022 at Schmidt Futures, we worked in all of these realities at once. We scoured the Earth searching for the next visionaries, betting early on the power of their ideas to solve hard problems in science and society. Because the world is awful, we worked hard to address the here and now; and because the world is much better, and can be much better, we are betting for the long term on networks of exceptional people to drive the next breakthroughs in science and technology, and serve others throughout their lives.
We operate now at a new scale, with more than 300,000 people across more than 170 countries connected to Schmidt Futures in one way or another. It is our privilege to support your extraordinary work now and for the long term – and we’re not done.
In another year of climate disasters,
from flooding in Pakistan and the US to wildfires in Spain, and record-breaking heatwaves in Asia and Europe, the need to find creative ways to address global warming was ever present. Susan Athey – a Schmidt Futures Innovation Fellow – helped design Frontier, a $925 million Advance Market Commitment to accelerate carbon removal led by Stripe, Alphabet, Meta, Shopify, and McKinsey. As The Atlantic noted, “In a world awash in overhyped corporate climate commitments, this is actually a big deal.”
What began as an emergency humanitarian effort last year
to evacuate Afghans through multiple airlifts has scaled into the largest, single-country scholarship program for displaced students in the world. In September, Education Above All, The Afghan Future Fund, Schmidt Futures, the Yalda Hakim Foundation, the Qatar Fund For Development, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, and the Institute of International Education launched the Qatar Scholarship for Afghans Project (QSAP). QSAP welcomes its first cohort of 250 displaced Afghan students to more than 40 U.S. colleges and universities in more than 17 states for the 2022-2023 academic year. In Afghanistan, our partnership with the Yalda Hakim Foundation and Education Above All provided education to 37,700 Afghan students (including 19,000 Afghan girls).
The Families & Workers Fund brought
together more than 20 different philanthropies to provide emergency relief to hundreds of thousands of vulnerable workers and families whom COVID hit the hardest. This year, the Fund pivoted to advance jobs that sustain and uplift people, with a goal of creating one million good jobs in the U.S. by 2026, and was featured in this year’s New York Times Giving Guide.
Soon after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,
Schmidt Futures worked with multiple partners to create the Ukraine Relief Fund, a philanthropic effort to provide Ukrainians with lifesaving humanitarian assistance. The fund has provided more than 32,000 tourniquets and 32,000 emergency trauma dressings to Ukraine, supporting more than 2,400 emergency medical service (EMS) teams in 25 regions and enabled just-in-time evacuations. The Ukraine Relief Fund is a project of the Victor Pinchuk Foundation (Victor and Elena Pinchuk), Schmidt Futures (Eric and Wendy Schmidt), Vista Equity Partners (Robert F. Smith), Minderoo Foundation (Andrew and Nicola Forrest), General Atlantic Foundation (Bill Ford), and others.
Scaling up the work of the Reimagine New York Commission chaired by Eric Schmidt,
Governor Hochul of New York designated $1.1 billion of public funds to promote New York’s first-in-the-nation commitment to universal, affordable broadband, through data collection and mapping, targeted grant programs and updates to deployment policy.
One of Schmidt Futures’ first Entrepreneurs in Residence, Zoe Schlag, seeded organizations
in the shared ownership ecosystem which went on to raise more than $57 million of capital, including the launch of the largest single-acquisition land trust in the U.S. This represents a 144x impact return in 10 months on Schmidt Futures’ original support for the Purpose Foundation, for shared ownership of historically marginalized communities.
More than 9 million children were protected from lead poisoning in
15+ countries through new paint regulations spearheaded by Dr. Lucia Coulter, a Schmidt Futures Innovation Fellow. Lucia is the co-founder and director of the Lead Exposure Elimination Project (LEEP), a charitable organization focused on reducing the human cost of lead poisoning.
Schmidt Futures grantee Josh Morrison, of 1Day Sooner,
was recognized in Vox’s The Future Perfect 50 series for his work on Covid-19 vaccines and kidney donation advocacy. Morrison is working to speed up the development of universal Covid vaccines, spur treatments for neglected diseases, and enhance pandemic preparedness.
AI in Science:
The Eric and Wendy Schmidt AI in Science Postdoctoral Fellowship, a program of Schmidt Futures and a $148 million initiative launched through partnerships with 9 universities and research centers around the world. The Fellowship seeks to catalyze the next scientific revolution by applying AI to research in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, and adds to Schmidt Futures’ efforts totaling $400 million and counting to support talent that is developing and using AI in innovative ways to make the world better.
AI in Society:
Our AI2050 initiative advanced efforts to ensure that artificial intelligence actually benefits society – defined by a working list of Hard Problems in AI. In a special edition of the open-access journal Daedalus, edited by AI2050 co-chair James Manyika, our Senior Fellows and others shared their insights on developing more capable and trustworthy AI, leveraging AI to address humanity’s greatest challenges, its responsible deployment, and what it means to be human in the age of AI.
Biology has the potential to revolutionize manufacturing – creating jobs, decreasing waste, reducing dependence on fossil fuels, increasing sustainability through what could become a $30 trillion global industry. Working with a task force of leaders across sectors, Schmidt Futures released a new strategy for the bioeconomy — “The U.S. Bioeconomy: Charting a Course for a Resilient and Competitive Future” and launched a public-partnership through BioMADE to accelerate innovation.
Our Virtual Earth System Research Institute (VESRI) created over 72 novel scientific products to improve climate models and predictions, and published over 100 scientific papers. Involving 151 scientists across 44 institutions in 13 countries, VESRI aims to improve climate modeling, change the direction of multiple models globally, and to accelerate the pace of earth systems and climate research.
One of Schmidt Futures’ earliest grantees (now spun out to a group called Gradient) has created a product which was named one of Time’s Best Inventions of 2022. The hybrid heating and cooling window unit reduces carbon emissions by 50-80% compared to conventional air conditioning technology. Gradient is already working with public systems to manufacture units for low-income housing. In addition, more than 240 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions will be avoided between now and 2030 through the work of Rewiring America. Led by Innovation Fellow Saul Griffith, the effort promotes widespread electrification as a means of fighting climate change, creating jobs, and cleaning the air. Rewiring America successfully designed and advocated for provisions in recent U.S. legislation (estimated at a value of more than $50 billion) that are projected to avoid a volume of greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to taking 13 million cars off the road.
Zvonimir Vrselja, a Schmidt Futures Innovation Fellow, is part of a team at Yale University that revived cells and tissues in dead pigs’ organs an hour after the pigs’ death. With Professor Nenad Sestan, Zvonimir is trying to significantly increase the number of donor organs available by restoring function to organs from donors who did not reach the hospital quickly enough for current procedures. Their findings were published in Nature.
Betting early on genius:
Our flagship program, Rise, increases opportunity for exceptional young people worldwide to serve their communities throughout their lives. As part of a broader, $1 billion commitment to talent development by Eric and Wendy Schmidt, the program has reached more than 10 million young people with the help of more than 20 partners. Together with our anchor partners at the Rhodes Trust, in 2022 we announced the second cohort of 100 Rise Global Winners. One awardee, Phuc (James) Chau Nguyen, channeled his grief from the loss of his grandmother to cancer into research. After publishing seven cancer research papers in national and international scientific journals, he prototyped an early-cancer-detecting toothbrush, discovered a potential drug for late-stage treatments, and founded a data-storing program for breast-cancer-detecting robots.
Promoting interdisciplinary science:
Our first program, the Schmidt Science Fellows, supports extraordinary scientists who do a postdoc outside their main field of study. In 2022 we announced the fifth cohort of 29 Schmidt Science Fellows. Among the 2022 Fellows are scientists aiming to develop new therapies to treat cancer and heart disease, scale-up sustainable fuel production, restore vision for blind people, protect endangered species, and generate new approaches for clean water and energy. As one example of impact, 2020 Fellow O.J. Watson has become a leading expert in COVID modeling and analysis, positively impacting over 10 million lives through his work. OJ helped shape the COVID-19 response, including the vaccine rollout, of seven countries and five multinational agencies, including the World Health Organization.
Advancing big ideas:
Ten new scientists received the Schmidt Science Polymaths award. The program bets on mid-career innovators in science with big ideas, typically recently-tenured professors with remarkable track records, promising futures, and a desire to explore interdisciplinary research. For example, Dr. Suchitra Sebastian, one of the new Polymaths, is working to integrate robotics with intelligent scanning of quantum phase space in novel materials to access previously unexplored regions, and thus find exotic forms of quantum matter.
Promoting people to people exchange:
Only two weeks ago, the governments of Australia, India, Japan, and the United States, alongside fellow founding corporate sponsors Accenture, Boeing, Blackstone, Google, Mastercard, and Western Digital, jointly announced the Quad Fellowship’s first cohort of 100 science, technology, engineering, and mathematics graduate students from the Quad countries. The Fellowship, operated and administered by Schmidt Futures, is a first-of-its-kind scholarship designed to spur scientific and technological innovation while building ties among and empowering the next generation of STEM leaders. The inaugural cohort of Quad Fellows studied at 69 undergraduate institutions across the four Quad countries, and more than fifty percent of Fellows identify as women or non-binary. Their areas of specialization are diverse and impact-oriented, including sustainable energy grids, solid-state batteries, environmental protection and restoration, 5G and 6G telecommunications, bias-reducing artificial intelligence, and quantum computing.
Engaging on hard issues of technology and society:
Building on the success of previous efforts in North America, our International Strategy Forum launched new programs in Asia and Europe. Collectively, ISF brought together emerging leaders from 34 different countries to tackle complex problems at the intersection of technology and geopolitics. ISF also piloted a new regional program in Africa, in partnership with the iNtaka Center for Law and Technology. In addition, Schmidt Futures announced the first cohort of fifteen AI2050 Early Career Fellows who will pursue bold and multidisciplinary research in artificial intelligence at ten universities and one national laboratory.
Promoting effective science communication:
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine announced the first recipients of the Eric and Wendy Schmidt Awards for Excellence in Science Communications. Supported by Schmidt Futures, these awards recognize both science journalists and research scientists who have developed creative, original work that addresses issues and advances in science, engineering, and/or medicine for the general public.
In 2023 there is so much more to do.
We aim to bring our many communities together in a thoughtful way – scholars, fellows, grantees, partners, alumni – and make it easier to share opportunities so that the value of the network for society as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts. We aim to focus on a smaller number of larger hard problems; expect new efforts from Schmidt Futures in climate and in space in the coming year. And we aim fundamentally to ensure that when we say that “we bet long on human ingenuity,” that we mean it — organizing our network of talent to be large, long-lasting, persistent, and supported over time.
The world may be awful again in 2023. The IMF says in its World Economic Outlook that countries representing a third of world output could be in recession next year. The war in Ukraine and the pandemic seem likely to drag on. Climate change will displace more people and food insecurity will grow.
But the world will also be better, and can be much better, and we are here to do our part. Our work is only one small part of the work that so many exceptional people do every day worldwide. We are lucky to serve.
Thank you to our partners, advisors, grantees, and friends. Thank you to our team members in New York, Washington, London, and around the world. Thank you to our founders Eric and Wendy Schmidt, whose vision and steady commitment make all of this work possible.
Best wishes from all of us at Schmidt Futures for a happy and healthy holiday season – and another year ahead of taking on hard problems in science and society, together.Eric Braverman, CEO
- We're Not Using AI to Its Fullest Human Potential (Time)
- Why America’s Future Depends on the Bioeconomy (RealClearPolitcs)
- The Education Department’s R&D Arm Faces a Dire Budget Shortfall — Just as We Need It Most (The 74)
- This Veterans Day, consider the reasons to serve (The Hill)
- Why We’re Losing the Competition for the World’s Best Talent (RealClearPolitics)
- The U.S. Can’t Leave Afghan Women Behind—Either in Afghanistan or on Our Shores (Ms. Magazine)
- The barriers to interdisciplinary science must be lowered (Times Higher Education)
- Unblock research bottlenecks with non-profit start-ups (Nature)