In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, we are postponing the open call for applications in the Family Planning portfolio until August 2021. We are in communication with current grantees about next steps. Other portfolios will continue to be invite-only until further notice.

Global COVID-19 Response: Grantee Flexibility, Centering Women & Girls, and Filling the Gaps

Amelia Abdelrazik

Apr 17, 2020

After deploying emergency funding for the Bay Area COVID-19 response, Preston-Werner Ventures turned our attention to the global fight. In carving the way forward, we sought to answer a few questions:

  1. What is needed in the global response to COVID-19? What are other funders doing and where are the gaps?
  2. What kind of flexibility can we provide our grantees to make their lives easier during this time? How are similar funders (family foundations; funders in the reproductive health space; funders in the global health space) supporting their grantees?
  3. How can we center our global COVID-19 response around the needs of vulnerable populations, especially women and girls, who are disproportionately affected by disasters and emergencies?

After chatting with some grantees, other funders, and attending a host of webinars, we are taking the following steps at Preston-Werner Ventures.

Global response of PPE

Nine of our grantees, all part of the Community Health Impact Coalition, work alongside national governments in Mali (Muso), Togo (Integrate Health), Liberia (Last Mile Health), Malawi (VillageReach), Madagascar (Pivot), Kenya (Lwala Community Alliance), Nepal (Possible Health), Uganda (Living Goods), and Rwanda (Partners in Health) to improve community health. Many began as local organizations and have scaled in at least one country, affording them the opportunity to understand health from both community and national systems’ perspectives.

Through partnerships with MedShare and Flexport.org, we will be providing these 9 grantees a 40,000-piece package of personal protective equipment to be used in their own health centers and shared with Ministries of Health and other partners.

Supporting our international grantees

For the majority of grantee partners in our Family Planning portfolio, we will be rolling the 2019 grants over through 2020, disbursing funds over the next few months, and shifting funding from program-specific to general.

In deciding how best to assist our Family Planning grantee partners, we thought about grantees’ shifting programmatic and financial capabilities and our own strategic plans for 2020.

The social distancing and other work challenges posed by COVID-19 have the potential to impact the organizational capacities of our grantees and the health and livelihoods of their community members. Most community engagement activities are now either done via SMS and WhatsApp or stopped altogether, and most health service providers are in full disaster response mode. Many organizations have less access to capital, as financial markets have taken a hit and there is less time and ability to fundraise.

At Preston-Werner Ventures, we believe in flexibility and trust. We know that our partners understand their own circumstances, communities, and national challenges better than we ever possibly could. To understand their work, we ask our partners to report their annual results based on indicators they are already measuring, rather than tracking and dictating our preferred outcomes. Every funder has a different style, and we will be the first to admit that we are still learning how to be an effective, grantee-centric grantmaker. Nonetheless, our simple processes afford us an opportunity to be even more adaptable in this crisis. That is not always easy for foundations with structured procedures.

Preston-Werner Ventures is in an exciting phase of growth. We added 14 new organizations to the Family Planning portfolio last year, with the intention of conducting site visits and learning about their work as part of our own strategic planning process. Before the pandemic, we were planning to scope our family planning grants geographically and choose a handful of focus countries. This may have rendered some current partners ineligible for funding moving forward.

Rather than trying to make funding decisions before we were able to visit Family Planning grantees and properly learn about their work on the ground, we decided to postpone the funding cycle by one year. Most of our 2019 partners in the Family Planning portfolio will remain partners through August 2021, the date of our next request for proposals. We have communicated with them individually about funding moving forward. We felt that this was the most responsible thing to do—giving both our grantees and ourselves more time before evaluating if the relationship should continue.

Centering women & girls

Research shows that demand for sexual and reproductive health services increases during humanitarian emergencies. As families are encouraged to stay at home, risks of unintended pregnancy and violence rise. During the 2014 Ebola Virus Disease outbreak in Sierra Leone, some provinces saw increases in adolescent pregnancies up to 65%. With recent state-level actions to curtail aborton services in Texas, Ohio, Alabama and more, and federal restrictions on accessing medications at home, it continues to be challenging for women in the United States to care for their own bodies safely. We are exploring some partnerships to ease women’s access to commodities and services through supply chains and advocacy. If you have any recommendations to that end, we are happy to talk—email info@prestonwernerventures.com.

Stay home, and stay safe!

First Efforts at Emergency Relief

Theresa Preston-Werner

Mar 23, 2020

We find ourselves faced with a new crisis—COVID-19—that threatens the world’s health and well-being. This is a moment of urgency, and this morning, Tom and I deployed $1 million toward efforts to fight against the virus and its effects.

At Preston-Werner Ventures, our philanthropic investment concentrates on international efforts. From this lens, we have expertise in understanding long-standing challenges contributing to economic and social imbalances of power and resulting in climate change. Working at this level often means thinking about slow-moving pieces. This foray into emergency relief is the first time we have made such quick funding decisions.

We believe that one role philanthropists can play is to step up early and fill gaps or fund initial models while governments work through their red-tape and determine their own courses of action. With this in mind, we are focusing our first efforts in San Francisco, one of the regions in the U.S. first hit by COVID-19. Our donations are spread equally across four organizations:

  1. UCSF Medical Center—funding the needs of frontline healthcare workers, including paying for hotel rooms so they can rest and not infect their own families. Give now.
  2. Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital—funding the needs of frontline health workers, including the procurement of PPE. Give now.
  3. YMCA of San Francisco—funding free childcare for healthcare workers and essential workers, including care for ages 0-5. Give now.
  4. GIVE2SF—funding grocery gift cards for undocumented residents and mixed-status households, low-income households with a pregnant woman or infant, and elderly adults without support. Give now.

Yet we cannot focus solely on what is at our front door. Our team is mobilizing with our public health grant recipients worldwide to determine how Preston-Werner Ventures can best help. I know other funders are similarly pushing to know how they can support on-the-ground work.

This is the beginning of the fight. Now is an excellent time to get involved at whatever level and in whatever way you can. Our involvement, our government’s response, and the programs we all fund will serve as models for the rest of the country and likely the world.

Announcing RedwoodJS

Rob Cameron

Mar 10, 2020

For the past several months Tom, Rob and a couple of other contributors have been building a new Javascript framework. Today we're proud to unveil Redwood, a framework for the next phase of the internet.

Redwood is meant to be deployed to the edge—CDNs and Lambda functions that can be distributed around the globe and served to users in milliseconds. In tech circles this is known as the JAMstack (Javascript, APIs and Markup). Until now the JAMstack has mostly focused on static sites being backed by a CMS (Content Management System). Redwood makes relational databases a first-class citizen in the JAMstack, allowing your front-end to get and send data to a real database through a GraphQL API. This, along with many other time-saving and productivity-enhancing features makes Redwood not only a powerful JS framework, but it's actually fun to work in, too.

We think Redwood is poised to be a major player in this new world of single page applications. Want to help us build it? Join our discussion forum and open up a pull request!

Annual Letter from Tom and Theresa

Theresa Preston-Werner

Jan 23, 2020

Preston-Werner Ventures is at the beginning. We have just today launched our website, a sign to our patient grantees and partners that we are, in fact, a real thing. To nudge us forward, I am writing a letter to document where we are today and where we’re hoping to go someday soon.

As a couple, when Tom and I come together, we goad one another to “push harder, and do more!” This has become our family motto. On my own, I’ve spent my career working with and learning about inequality, political economy, and the monitoring and measurement of human activity. Tom has worked ever since I’ve known him (twenty years this February) on gaps in technology and how to develop innovative solutions.

Our date nights consist of rapid-fire conversation, pens scribbling across notebooks; dinner and desert the afterthought. We make proposals to one another, unafraid to sound grandiose, but knowing that the other has veto power. We try to differentiate between recognizing a problem we want to solve and the solutions that may or may not solve it. It’s like the line attributed to Henry Ford about building a faster horse.

You must leap with imagination, Tom says to me.

We also know that we can be limited by the imaginations of the people asking the questions. Hence, Preston-Werner Ventures seeks to collaborate with people who know more than we do, and this approach will extend to our grantmaking and investing and to our support of open-source development. We intend to stand back as the voices of other rise up. This is the basis of Preston-Werner Ventures. We want to push projects forward, build in the world, and expand the boundaries of what’s possible and accessible for everyone. We can’t do it alone. We need more people asking questions, and more people providing answers. We’re interested in funding solutions that protect and enhance our world and the people in it.

Let’s see how much we can get done in 2020.