Pioneering Then, Pioneering Now

Oct 25, 2012, 9:09 AM, Posted by Brian C. Quinn

Brian Quinn / RWJF Brian Quinn, assistant vice president, Research and Evaluation

Forty years ago, smallpox still existed. We hadn’t heard the acronyms HIV or AIDS. The Nixon administration had declared war on cancer and was about to introduce America to the health maintenance organization, aka HMO. Meanwhile, a couple of paramedics on a TV show called “Emergency!” and a new philanthropy, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, were introducing the nation to the life-saving concept of 911 and another acronym: EMS (emergency medical services).

Four decades later, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is the nation’s largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to health and health care, and we are still in the business of searching for solutions that will improve the health and health care of millions. As the Foundation marks its 40th anniversary this week, we remain committed not only to proven, evidence-based strategies, but also to new ideas that push boundaries.

RWJF created the Pioneer Portfolio almost 10 years ago to be an innovation scout—to ensure it keeps looking beyond the horizon for the next big ideas to meet the big challenges still ahead. Our work complements the Foundation’s efforts on four targeted issues—childhood obesity, the quality and equality of health care, public health, and access to health care insurance—and two critical population groups—vulnerable populations and human capital. Our mandate is to hunt for new ideas and approaches that can accelerate the progress of others or by themselves create transformative change.

While our grantmaking is diverse, our strategy is deliberate. Our search for promising ideas and people takes us anywhere and everywhere—from video gamers looking at the impact of “exergaming” on the health of our seniors to doctors willing to make their visit notes available to their patients. The Foundation is always looking for projects that use original, unconventional approaches and lead to breakthrough ideas that can shape the future of health and health care.

Where will the next 40 years take us? What will be the game-changer that advances a breakthrough or launches us into a new era? RWJF and the Pioneer team will continue to invest in processes and practices that nurture innovation. We will network with people who share our passion for health and health care. We want ideas from every sector (not just health care), so long as their insights might shed new light on the thorny issues in our field. We will keep our minds open to new ideas—and we want to hear yours.

As the Foundation turns 40, we hope you’ll join with us to explore and celebrate the solutions that look to tomorrow to drive change today. Where might we find the solutions to tomorrow’s biggest challenges? What great leaps are we poised to take over the next 40 years? We want to hear from you.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Pioneering Ideas blog.