Press release

European foundations unite to tackle global challenges

Three of Europe’s biggest philanthropic foundations have joined together to award €5m to tackle some of the most pressing global challenges of our time.

Wellcome Trust, Volkswagen Stiftung and Riksbankens Jubileumsfond have funded six research groups from across Europe to drive action through cross-border collaboration.  

The announcement comes as the leading European foundations met together to discuss how they can share experience, best practice and work more closely together.  They will also soon be meeting with Carlos Moedas, the EU Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, to discuss how philanthropy and research might contribute to and complement the EU Horizon 2020 research framework programme as it is developed.

Millions of people in countries across the world are facing major challenges that affect their health, safety and livelihood. The world is tackling the largest refugee crisis since World War II and social inequality and extreme weather events threaten more lives. The scale of these issues means that no one nation can tackle them independently.

Six interdisciplinary research groups have been awarded funding for projects that range from understanding how asylum policies impact refugee decision-making, to strengthening climate action in the global south. Each partner will fund two projects directly.

This new funding builds on the relationship that the three foundations have had over the past few years as part of the Europe and Global Challenges initiative. The unique partnership sees the cross-European funders working together on global problems and encourages researchers to form new collaborations with colleagues from across the world.

The six projects that receive funding are:

  • Erik Berglöf at LSE, to investigate where and how to best protect and integrate Syrian refugees.
  • Jenny Phillimore at the University of Birmingham, to explore sexual and gender-based violence in the refugee crisis.
  • Thomas Hale at the University of Oxford, to investigate how to strengthen non-state climate action in the global south. 
  • Anders Levermann at the Potsdam-Institut fûr Klimafolgenforschung, to investigate the impact of intensified weather extremes on Europe’s economy.
  • Till Bärnighausen, Univeritäts-klinikum, Heidelberg, to investigate the ethics of health policy experiments and use this to develop a framework for design and oversight.
  • Sarah Hawkes at UCL, to investigate how to identify and implement policy responses for improving the sexual health of migrants and refugees.

Göran Blomqvist, RJ’s chief executive said: “Our cooperation is an explicit European initiative. The aim is to jointly fund research with a potential to widen the existing horizons and to open for new and unexpected perspectives. With the partnership, the three foundations wish to send a strong signal about their readiness to support and promote the new types of scholarly work that is necessary in  disrupted and fragmented times.”

Wilhelm Krull, Secretary General of the Volkswagen Foundation said: “We live in a world that faces numerous economic, environmental, and social challenges that are globally interconnected such as climate change, social inequality, epidemics, terrorist attacks, to name only a few. In order to provide fundamental insights on understudied issues of global relevance, European foundations will cooperate across borders and jointly launch calls for proposals on respective topics. It is wonderful to see so much interest and enthusiasm of the European research foundation leaders for this endeavor.”

Jeremy Farrar, Director of Wellcome, said: “The world is facing problems that cross borders, continents and nationalities. We want our solutions to reflect the nature of these issues, and by working together across Europe and beyond we can bring a collective voice and action. Only through international partnerships such as this can we hope to create real and tangible solutions for millions of people.”

The successful applicants were assessed by an international panel comprising researchers from all over the world, and from several different disciplines. Almost 300 applications were received from research groups from around the world, and 14 moved on to the second round.