October 2023

Ten Years of Making a Difference

The Greenwall Foundation is celebrating the tenth anniversary of its Making a Difference in Real-World Bioethics Dilemmas (MAD) grant program. The MAD program, which held its first funding cycle in fall 2013, supports research to help resolve important emerging or unanswered bioethics problems in clinical, biomedical, or public health decision-making, policy, or practice. Over time, the main goal of the MAD program hasn’t changed: supporting research with real-world impact on important emerging or unanswered bioethics questions.

Since the program began, the Foundation has funded 103 MAD grants. These grants have been awarded to 92 principal investigators at 53 different institutions. We recently reviewed the program’s first decade as we plan for its future. What follows are some of our findings.

Grant Characteristics

While there has been variation, the Foundation has generally received between 40 and 50 letters of intent (LOIs) per funding cycle. On average, we invited 11 full applications from those LOIs, and funded five to six grants per cycle (with a low of two and a high of ten over the years). Fluctuations in these numbers are largely due to changing financial constraints. In general, the MAD grants have ranged from 12-24 months in duration with budgets in the $150,000-$250,000 range.

Priority Topics

The MAD program funds a wide variety of topics within bioethics, and the Foundation does not limit which bioethics topics it will support under the program. However, we identify ‘priority topics’ in each cycle that reflect current topics of interest and change over time. Among the priority topics most represented in MAD grants awarded are “advances in biomedical & clinical research and translation into clinical practice” (16.1%), “innovative biomedical research/communication technologies” (9.7%) and more recently, “COVID-19 and other public health crises” (8.6%). Applications outside of the priority topics are also welcome, and approximately 29% of the MAD grants awarded have not aligned with a priority topic.

Recipients & Research Teams

Of the 53 institutions to receive MAD grants to date, 43 have been first- or second-time recipients. The Foundation embraces the idea of a broad and inclusive bioethics, and accordingly, MAD research teams represent a variety of academic fields. This includes bioethics, medicine, law, public health, health policy, psychology and psychiatry, nursing, social work, philosophy, medical humanities, sociology, public policy, medical anthropology, and biostatistics and health data sciences, among others.

Just over a quarter of the MAD grants awarded have directly reported mentoring relationships within the research team, including junior faculty or postdoctoral fellows who work closely with experienced bioethics scholars. The MAD program also encourages projects that pair bioethics scholars with team members who have on-the-ground connections to or experience with the relevant bioethical dilemma (e.g., clinical care, biomedical research, artificial intelligence, etc.). Looking back, around one in four MAD grants reported involving non-academic collaborators.

We celebrate the excellent work that grantees have done under the MAD program over the past decade. In a recent survey of grantees that we conducted with the Center for Effective Philanthropy, we heard that grantees are eager for more opportunities to collaborate and make connections. As a start, we hosted a webinar that spotlighted three MAD projects that focused on COVID-19 and produced results with the potential for broad, lasting impact. You can watch a recording of it here. We look forward to future convenings like this and new opportunities to continue to support our MAD grantees and the impactful work they do.