Pershing Square Foundation: Grants for Higher Education


OVERVIEW: The Pershing Square Foundation was founded in 2006 by Bill Ackman and his wife Karen. It gives both in the U.S. and internationally in diverse areas including arts, urban and economic development, education, and healthcare and medical research. Much of its higher ed funding goes to scholarship programs, but it has also funded endowed professorships and cancer research.

IP TAKE: Pershing Square takes a “business minded” approach to its giving. They're willing to take risks, but expect big results. Unsolicited grant applications aren't accepted, but applicants for its Prize for Young Investigators in Cancer Research can submit a letter of intent.

PROFILE:  The Pershing Square Foundation, now entering its second decade, is a New-York-based operation founded by Bill Ackman, head of Pershing Square Capital Management, and his wife Karen. The foundation operates both in the U.S. and internationally, and its giving “covers a range themes, such as arts & urban development, economic development, education, healthcare and justice, together with innovative organizations building the field for social impact.”

“Impact” is the key word here.  On that theme, the foundation states that it “awards grants and social investments to support exceptional leaders and innovative organizations that tackle important social issues and deliver scalable and sustainable impact.” Award recipients must have initiatives that “can have the highest, leveraged impact.” To achieve that goal, the foundation is willing “to take risks,” but with an “approach [that] is businesslike and results-oriented.” It is especially looking for programs that it perceives to be “at an inflection point, when targeted investment will be instrumental to their ability to scale and accelerate impact.”

The Pershing Square Foundation has also put its weight behind support for TheDream.Us, which gives college scholarships to so-called “DREAMers,” whose lack of legal status means that they don’t qualify for federal student aid or federally funded grants.  In response, theDream.US gives awards of “up to $25,000 for tuition and fees to high school graduates who are first-time college students or community college graduates seeking to complete their bachelor’s degrees.” Internationally, the foundation recently gave £3.7 million pounds to Oxford University’s Saïd Business School, through which “[f]ive scholarships will provide funding for tuition and living expenses during both years of study” at the business school’s “1+1 MBA” program. This comes on top of the foundation’s original endowment of £4.5 million pounds. It has also pledged 15 years of support for one scholar per year at the Schwarzman Scholars endowed international scholarship program, a Beijing-based operation “dedicated to academic excellence and the interaction between Chinese and Western cultures.”

Outside of traditional university funding, Pershing Square has also given heavily to YearUp, “a one-year, intensive training program that provides low-income young adults, ages 18-24, with a combination of hands-on skill development, college credits, corporate internships, and support,” several million dollars to Harvard University for various initiatives (including endowed professorships and “Friends of Harvard Rowing”), and $30,000 a year to Thanks USA, a nonprofit that gives scholarships to U.S. military members’ spouses and children.

For more details on select grantees, click here or here. Unfortunately for grantseekers, unsolicited applications are not accepted, but it may be possible to get your foot in the door through an introductory inquiry.

Lastly, not to be overlooked is the the Pershing Square Sohn Cancer Research Alliance, which was started in partnership with The Sohn Conference Foundation and supports “innovative cancer research and...collaborations between academia and industry.” Among its initiatives is the Prize for Young Investigators in Cancer Research, which gives “$200,000 per year for up to three years [and] is awarded annually to at least five New York City-based scientists.” The first step in seeking this award is the submission of a letter of intent, after which you might be selected to send in a full proposal. Eligibility is limited to M.D.s and Ph.D.s with 2-8 years of experience heading a lab and with “faculty appointments at academic research the level of Assistant or Associate Professor” in the area of New York City, Long Island, and Northern and Central New Jersey.


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