By John Russell
May 7, 2002 | For all of its hopes to help fight the war against AIDS, the Waterford Project must first win its own battle for funding or perhaps face shutdown. The not-for-profit organization's planned budget for the next five years is $11 million annually. With roughly $1 million in the bank, CEO Stephen Effros says the project can keep running until the end of this year. After that, its future is uncertain.
"We ran into two huge roadblocks," Effros says. "The first was the recession in the telecommunications and network industry. We expected much of our support to come from companies in those segments. The second was 9/11. Within four days, virtually every philanthropic organization we were talking to told us they were diverting funds for 9/11 relief projects.''
A third obstacle is the Waterford Project's refusal so far to accept funds that impose strict requirements and milestones regarding their use. This stance severely restricts access to traditional sources of research funding — National Institutes of Health, for example — because the majority require just such restrictive provisions.
"A big part of the Waterford idea," Effros says, "is to provide scientists with flexibility to quickly redirect resources to more promising projects." Speeding up research is at the heart of the Waterford Project's effort to create a high-speed network for collaboration. Effros insists that the best way to take advantage of the resulting collaboration is to let scientists make quick course changes based on what they learn from each other.
Proven results might help pry money loose, but Effros says it's too early to be able to demonstrate concrete progress. He has been aggressively knocking on the doors of potential donors, including the likes of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as well as large IT corporations.
"I'm not at all sure we are going to be adequately funded. We're almost at a standstill," he says. "You have to look where the money is, and I'm starting to consider defense contractors such as Lockheed and Northrop Grumman."
The Waterford Project Web site (www.waterfordproject.org) has a section devoted to attracting donors and providing information about donations. It even gives short descriptions of the benefits and rules regarding specific kinds of gifts including cash and equivalents; appreciated assets (generally securities); gifts-in-kind; and matching gifts.
Not surprisingly, the uncertainty is nerve-racking for Effros. By most measures the sum required seems modest, particularly given the standing of the participating research organizations. He remains frustrated but hopeful: "Somebody could write a check tomorrow."
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