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People, not projects

  • Steve Song
Projects and organisations come and go, and disruptive events punctuate their lifespans. Environmental factors, policy changes, and the inflows and outflows of people can all distract from the mission. This is why we support people, not projects.
We identify individuals with drive, determination, and capacity to learn who will carry their experiences, passions, and vision for change long into the future. We look for potential leaders with an implicit understanding of the challenges their communities face. Supporting them as individuals gives them space and flexibility to test an idea and course-correct as and when necessary.
Isha Datar arrived on the fellowship in 2016 to apply openness to the emerging field of cellular agriculture. Her initial plan was to create openly accessible cell cultures in a purpose-built lab in France: an intriguing proposition that we backed wholeheartedly. But within a few months, it was apparent there were better and less risky ways to spend her funding. Isha scrapped the lab and pivoted towards a new idea: advancing the field as a whole by investing in open, accessible research.
Had we backed Isha’s initial project rather than supported her as an individual, our relationship may have shared a similar fate to the plans for her lab. But, instead, she had space, time, and trust to work out a new idea and pursue an alternative path. Today, her organisation New Harvest is spearheading research into cellular agriculture and creating the scientific foundations, structure, and essential plumbing of a post-animal bioeconomy.
Would this significant development have happened without our support? Undoubtedly - Isha is an incredible individual. But the current landscape would look very different. Isha has shared many of our community’s concepts and thinking around openness with New Harvest, her network, and the entire field of cellular agriculture. Not only is she creating the conditions for a new market to emerge, but she is making open a central player.
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