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Intellectual Capital Seed Fund Answers Questions of Tomorrow

In the 2004 academy-award winning film “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” two characters fall in love, break up, have their memories of the relationship erased, and fall in love all over again. While the movie is a work of fiction, its underlying theme about how science can impact human experiences is becoming less far-fetched every day.

Neuroscience is already gaining prevalence in the medical and social services field, and even popular culture is beginning to think about neuroscience in a new way. Neuroscience—and with it neuroethics—has entered the nation’s collective consciousness.

As neuroscience is being imagined as a way to further treatment outcomes, the ethical questions associated with it are only beginning to be asked.

“Who is even asking these questions?” says Peter Goldberg, president and CEO of the Alliance for Children and Families. “What if 10 years from now you can solve virtually any emotional disability with a pill? What happens then? Do we still need counseling? How would we blend advancements in neuroscience with the sector’s traditional personable, human care approach? Who will get the pill and who won’t?”

Fortunately, if all goes according to plan this year, the Alliance may soon play a leading role in tackling those types of questions through the formation of a neuroethics center, the first in a series of initiatives funded by the Alliance’s new Intellectual Capital Seed Fund.

Goldberg defines intellectual capital, which is an explicit component of the Alliance’s mission statement, as “ideas and knowledge; it’s the thought side of the world—innovative concepts and challenging ideas.”

In the works since 2006, the Intellectual Capital Seed Fund is meant to position the Alliance and its members for the future by funding unique, forward-looking research opportunities. The seed fund will help the Alliance—and its members—anticipate changes to the field in order to remain high-performing organizations.

“The Alliance is a thought leader in the nation with regard to family and children’s services,” says Dennis Richardson, CEO of Alliance member Hillside Family of Agencies, Rochester, N.Y. “As such, the Alliance is helping members to continually consider how we can best serve families and children given the environment that we’re operating in now, as well as the environment we expect to be operating in during the years to come.”

Funded by Donations

The Intellectual Capital Seed Fund has been, and will always continue to be, funded with donations rather than the Alliance’s operational budget. A five-person committee, comprised of both Alliance board members and philanthropic professionals who are independent thought leaders, is charged with overseeing the fund.

“I felt very strongly that the fund shouldn’t be paid for with Alliance operational funds,” says Joseph M. Reibman, a committee member, attorney, and donor to the seed fund. “I wanted to create a lasting source of funding for a concept that had merit.”

He adds that the committee has agreed not to fund any projects if the fund drops below $150,000, a rule designed to ensure that the seed fund will serve as a continuous funding stream rather than a one-shot effort.

Goldberg anticipates that the seed fund, with additional funding, will probably underwrite about one idea each year.

“Realistically, under the current circumstances, Alliance members have to use all of their energy to serve the children and families that need services today,” says B. Scott Finnell, CEO of Alliance member Pressley Ridge, Pittsburgh; chair of the Alliance board of directors; and a member of the Intellectual Capital Seed Fund Committee. “We, as members, don’t always have time to think about the future, but the Alliance has the capacity to begin to anticipate what needs we will have even before they arrive.”

Project One: Neuroethics

By the end of this year, the committee will have a report back from the consulting firm that’s developing a business plan for the neuroethics center, Goldberg says. The business plan will determine how a neuroethics center serving the nonprofit human services sector would be funded and what shape its programs should take.

“We’re playing in the right ballpark, but we don’t yet know all the contours of the field,” Goldberg explains.

The neuroethics center would be able to consider a variety of ethical issues faced by the sector, including if and when it’s appropriate to use pharmaceutical interventions and other forms of technologically-driven advances to repair emotional trauma.

Even though the neuroethics center and the issues it may tackle are still in the early stages, the fact that the Alliance is taking actions in that direction show that the association is serious about confronting issues that will be important for members in the coming years, says Jane L. Polin, a philanthropic advisor and member of the Intellectual Capital Seed Fund Committee.

“I think there is an interesting balancing act going on between highly pragmatic and aspirational ideas,” Polin says. “We could have picked something that was very nuts and bolts, but that choice doesn’t speak to the need to develop intellectual capital.”

Reibman agrees. “The Intellectual Capital Seed Fund creates an opportunity for the Alliance to have a lasting funding resource to develop new programs and centers of excellence for the social services field.”

For more information about the Intellectual Capital Seed Fund, contact the Alliance Development Department.

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