Philanthropy now advances also for the benefit of science

Publicado em 24 maio 2020

Biologist Natália Pasternak, from USP Biomedical Sciences Institute, has stood out in the pandemic of the new coronavirus as one of the main scientific disseminators in the country, explaining complex subjects that, overnight, became commonplace in our daily lives, such as chloroquine, serological and PCR tests, clinical trials.

His effort to combat covid-19 and scientific misinformation, however, goes beyond his studies and participation in TVs, newspapers and social networks. It involves backstage work and the contribution of at least R $ 2.4 million in research and inputs.

Granddaughter of one of the founders of the Vicunha group, which controls CNS (after the death of her grandmother, the family sold the share to the other partners, the Steinbruch), Natália has taken advantage of the inheritance to invest in science.

“In my life as a scientist, I always wanted to put this money to good use. My grandmother used to do a lot of philanthropy. It was a donation more focused on the Jewish colony – something quite common among Jews. Science was not on the radar. I’m not even talking only from donations, but from a more constant partnership, as is common in the United States (the so-called endowment, known in Brazil as heritage funds) “, he says.

In 2018 she founded the Instituto Questão de Ciência, aimed at, as Natália explains, “the defense of science”. IQC publishes Revista Questão de Ciência and produces contents that fight fake news and distortion of scientific knowledge. For the institute, Natália already makes an annual contribution of about R $ 1.5 million. With the pandemic, she saw the need to invest in efforts against the disease as well.

“It started with a teacher from Santa Casa commenting to me that the hospital was desperate because he didn’t have the money to buy PPE. He told me he needed R $ 150 thousand and I said: ok. It was my first donation. Then I started looking for others. places that were struggling. The ICB, where I research, was in desperate need of reagents for diagnostic tests. The cost was R $ 120 thousand. I said: okay. Then I donated another R $ 150 thousand to Unicamp University Hospital to buy PPE “, reports Natália.

That was when she met Inspire, from Poli-USP, which develops a low-cost pulmonary ventilator. “The project would die on paper if they were unable to buy inputs to make the pilot. The coordinator, Marcelo Zuffo, told me that he would need at least R $ 2 million for the next day. I involved my mother, who is a professor at the Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism, because it would need to take investment money from the family, and she agreed. “

The project had received an initial support of R $ 150,000 in a movement to donate former Poli students, says Zuffo. But Natália’s donation allowed him to do the pilot and is now attracting other donors. Natália, in turn, decided to tell this story to Estadão to inspire other millionaires to donate to science not only at this time of emergency, but on a permanent basis.

She cites as an example of something that could count on permanent philanthropy a current effort by the ICB in the development of five research projects for vaccine against the coronavirus.

“We have already asked for funding from development agencies, such as Fapesp and CNPq, but I would like to present this to potential philanthropists. Explain where the donated money would be used, that it could help develop knowledge about vaccines,” says Natália.

“People are not sure how science works. There is a misunderstanding. I heard things like: ‘But there are already almost ready vaccines, like the one in Oxford, in the United States. Why invest in more vaccine research?’. research is important. Everything that is being generated of knowledge about the virus is important to improve the response to future epidemics. And we also need to have our own production for Brazil “, he explains.

Natália also ponders that, to change the culture of philanthropy in Brazil, it is necessary to communicate the projects well to attract more donors. “People donate to causes they believe in. If we want to attract them, we scientists have to take the trouble to explain the project so they can understand, see the result.”

Pioneer project

Donations to science are rare in Brazil, unlike what happens in the United States. The first initiative in this regard was the creation, by the Moreira Salles family, of the Serrapilheira Institute, to promote research. “This is an important source of funding because it can provide support for researchers to dedicate themselves to things that, in general, neither the public source nor the private source are interested in financing. Philanthropy for science can take a greater risk, there is more flexibility “, explains Hugo Aguilaniu, CEO of Serrapilheira.

He comments that he has seen several donation initiatives with the pandemic. “Many people are manifesting themselves in the perception of social catastrophe, and donations are absolutely critical. But structured philanthropic investment is not synonymous with urgency. Ideally, what is emerging can be maintained in such a way that it becomes a part of important aspect of Brazilian science. That allows it to be more reactive and also more creative “, he says.

“I hope that this crisis has the impact of making this philanthropic support come true. What we see taking shape now has a lot to do with the heart, people are touched by the situation. But to invest more robustly, you have to really believe that science is worth it. Having the conviction in it is what will make the difference “, says Aguilaniu.

Even universities started to organize for this only now. USP, for example, created a platform to receive donations for scientific projects dedicated to covid-19. The USP Vida program, created a month ago, raised about R $ 500 thousand, according to the research dean, Sylvio Canuto.

Unicamp also organized to raise funds. Rector Marcelo Knobel sought courts of justice to request transfers of funds from lawsuits, such as fines and conduct adjustment terms. With that, he managed to obtain more than R $ 10 million.

He also created a mechanism at the university to receive donations from people and companies. It has already managed to raise more than R $ 3 million, in addition to equipment, such as tablets, so that covid-19 patients at the University Hospital can talk to their families. To cheer up health professionals, even flowers were donated, from producers in the neighboring city of Holambra.