Who's Betting $2 Million That New Ideas Can Curb Nukes?

Call it “How to Start Worrying and Hate the Bomb (Again).” In an effort to warm up those Cold War passions about ridding the world of the threat of nuclear Armageddon, a Gang of Five heavily invested in the arena are banding together in a new initiative. The partners in the provisionally named “Nuclear Innovation Collaborative” are the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Ploughshares Fund and the Skoll Global Threats Fund.

Declaring that the risks from nuclear weapons remains high in the form of accidents, terrorism and proliferation, the collaborative will, during a two-year pilot phase, invest $2 million in grantmaking and direct activities to introduce “innovation” into the nuclear security arena. I asked Bruce Lowry, the director of policy and communications at the Skoll Global Threats Fund, what kind of innovation they are looking for.

“We don't want to pre-judge what the innovation that emerges from this initiative will look like,” says Lowry. “In broad terms, we (the five funders) share the common goals of increasing nuclear security and decreasing risks from nuclear weapons.  To achieve these goals, we need to drive more attention to the issue and surface ideas that can gain traction in today’s crowded policy space. The innovation collaborative is aimed at exploring ways to bring new players and new ideas into the nuclear sphere. Our community and partners are effective, but new ideas and partners could help us become even more effective.”

The announcement says that the partnership wants to bring “positive disruption” to the effort. Disruption is amot du jour for techies; what does it mean in this context? “Advances in sectors like data science, mobile communications and technology are opening new avenues for tackling complex issues like climate, infectious disease and shared resource use,” says Lowry.”  “We believe cross-fertilization from these fields could lead to advances in the nuclear sphere as well.”

Sounds cool to us, at least in theory. But how exactly this might lead, say, to better securing Pakistan's nuclear arsenal remains to be seen. 

Polish those resumes: The Gang of Five is looking for someone to lead the initiative. The position will be housed at Ploughshares Fund in San Francisco. The honcho is expected to design a new model of funding in the nuclear security community, to create a framework for desired outcomes, to experiment, gather evidence and evolve as the initiative progresses, and to encourage cross-sector partnerships with “unusual” individuals and institutions.

But not Dennis Rodman, I think.

Three goals or areas of focus for the effort are to activate, expand and reframe the public conversation about nuke security, to create new approaches to a nearly 70-year-old problem, and to catalyze efforts among funders, grantees and other contributors.

Official launch to come when the lead position is filled, after which some interesting grants are likely to be going out the door.

Editor’s Note: The MacArthur Foundation is currently winding down several of its grantmaking programs. Although the foundation has not officially announced a plan to close its Peace and International Security program, it is “exploring the elements and feasibility of a big bet based on a new approach to reducing the threat posed by nuclear weapons. We also think that a big bet could be a place, rather than an issue.” MacArthur is currently exploring Nigeria as a region of focus for its future nuclear security related grantmaking. We’ll keep you posted as new information comes in.