Ellison’s Health Giving Goes Global?

Bits and pieces of the full story have emerged since we broke the news of Ellison Medical Foundation’s abrupt pull-out of anti-aging funding last fall. “Funding crunch,” we’ve heard around the water cooler—though what the provenance of said crunch may have been, we don't know.

What we do know is that, as it’s done in the past, Ellison pulled out of a significant branch of its own grantmaking just as someone bigger and more established moved in. In 2004, it retreated from infectious disease research just as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation swooped in; here, its withdrawal from anti-aging research came just as Google’s new anti-aging research company Calico was ramping up.

Whatever the real reason behind these shifts, we can’t deny the irresponsible management—or at least woefully bad planning—that precedes the pull-outs. For those dozens of researchers who’d been relying on EMF for anti-aging funding, it’s just tough.

But. We are not here to guilt trip. We are here to tell you where Larry Ellison's philanthropy appears to be headed now. It’s been a few months, but he has supposedly changed the name of the foundation to the Lawrence Ellison Foundation, though EMF’s website is still up and looking legit. It seems he may be getting himself into wildlife conservation grantmaking, and that sort of giving wouldn’t make sense coming from a medical foundation. So he’s broadening his focus and his reach, and preparing to dabble in something totally different from his past interests.

And lest you be thinking he’s getting out of the health grantmaking game entirely, well, fret not. Last week, the Hindu Business Line reported that Larry Ellison has sequestered $100 million—and he plans to give it to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative over the course of 5 years. That's pretty big news for the field. 

Polio, unlike the woes of aging or even the multifaceted challenges of infectious diseases, may be a problem better suited to Ellison’s strengths and desires. Looking at Ellison’s history, it’s hard not to wonder if his confidence simply falters in the face of big problems. Better-provisioned juggernaut foundations like Gates show up to the game, and Ellison goes running off, tail between legs. Polio isn’t like aging, though. Polio is beatable. There are only three countries left in all the world where polio is endemic, and just a few more where it’s regularly killing or paralyzing people.

Ellison’s clear desire to be a savior, and the depth and breadth of his pockets, might just be a perfect match for this smaller but no less critical new initiative. Maybe this $100 million will turn out merely to be a down payment in a bigger Ellison push against polio. The guy has $41 billion, after all.