ExxonMobil: Grants for Higher Education


OVERVIEW: ExxonMobil’s philanthropic focus areas are on STEM education (especially for women and girls), health, and biodiversity and conservation. Within that scope, the ExxonMobil Foundation has a partially overlapping emphasis on math and science education, women’s economic empowerment, and efforts to combat malaria. 

IP TAKE: ExxonMobil gives big to higher ed as well as job and skills training (both in the U.S. and internationally) in areas where it has a community presence, but unsolicited requests are rarely accepted or approved.

PROFILE: The ExxonMobil Foundation has existed under its current name since 2000, following the merger of the two oil corporations Exxon and Mobil. The foundation’s history, however, dates back to 1955, when it was founded as the Esso Education Foundation.

Broadly speaking, ExxonMobil’s core focus is on STEM education (especially for women and girls), health, and biodiversity and conservation. The foundation, meanwhile, currently “has a strategic focus supporting math and science education, for promoting women as catalysts for economic development and ending deaths from malaria.” In a recent year, combined giving from ExxonMobil (the foundation, corporation, and employees and retirees) totaled about $280 million, with $100 million going toward education. Globally, this giving totaled $50 million for higher ed, of which more than $40 million was allocated to institutions in the U.S.

The most obvious place to start for postsecondary fundraisers is ExxonMobil’s higher education focus. The focus is “on supporting programs that improve teaching and learning in science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” but the foundation also “support[s] diversity-based education programs and professional societies.”  The majority of that funding comes through the Educational Matching Gift Program, which offers three-to-one matching contributions from company retirees and employees. In a recent year, more than 850 colleges universities, and educational funds received support through this program.

In terms of math and science specifically, the foundation supports a number of initiatives aimed at both K-12 and higher education. This includes STEM teacher training and retention through its support for the National Math and Science Initiative and the Mickelson ExxonMobil Teachers Academy. Through its Outreach Program, ExxonMobil also supports select U.S.-based “universities that seek to improve the career opportunities of women and minorities, particularly in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.” International outfits also receive some funding, and the company emphasizes its efforts in Canada as well as the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

ExxonMobil also has an important funding area that it classifies as “other education,” which is dedicated to “vocational and entrepreneurial education, including courses on life skills, business development and micro-enterprise training for women in the developing world.” University and college training programs, along with initiatives related to women’s leadership, were among the main funding recipients in this category.

At the same time, fundraisers shouldn’t be too quick to rule out its other focus areas as potential grant sources. As part of its antimalarial efforts, for example, this funder emphasizes the critical need for “new approaches and passionate, highly-trained leaders,” both of which are likely to connect in various ways to scholarly research and other work. To that end, since 2011, ExxonMobil has lent its support to “outstanding students from developing and emerging-market countries to pursue global health-focused Master’s degrees at Oxford University,” providing these individuals with “the opportunity to learn about the global burden of disease, epidemiological principles and how to apply classroom lessons to the real world,” as well as professional networking opportunities. In one recent year, over $860,000 also went toward various antimalarial initiatives at Harvard.

Complementing its antimalarial efforts, ExxonMobil has also funded higher ed for other health-related issues, with some big-name beneficiaries, including George Washington University’s Regulatory Studies Center, the Georgetown University Children’s Medical Center, and $2 million to the MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas as part of a five-year, $10-million grant called the Healthy Communities Initiative. According to the center, the goal of the initiative is “to promote and facilitate... healthy lifestyle behaviors among residents through implementation of evidence-based cancer prevention interventions addressing nutrition, physical activity, tobacco use, sun exposure and cancer screenings,” with a focus on community engagement.

Higher ed organizations have sometimes earned support via ExxonMobil’s Civic and Community program, through which a handful of universities recently received modest grants for local community initiatives.

Lastly, although ExxonMobil’s Environment program receives less funding compared to its education programs, several universities have received awards in recent years in this area, including six-figure sums to research and programs in biodiversity, conservation, and related areas.

In terms of eligibility, it’s important to keep in mind that as a general rule, “ExxonMobil chooses to work with community organizations with which we have established or proactively developed relationships,” though it occasionally supports “organizations that operate across a nation or around the globe.” That said, it “does not seek and rarely funds unsolicited grant applications and project proposals.” For more information on ExxonMobil’s giving areas and recent recipients, check out its most recent Worldwide Giving Report, found on the corporation’s Worldwide Giving home page.


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