Punching Above Your Weight with Karl Brown and the Rockefeller Foundation

Aid, Evolved
Punching Above Your Weight with Karl Brown and the Rockefeller Foundation
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Karl Brown spent 8 years at the Rockefeller Foundation, investing across multiple domains, including pandemic response, digital health, health systems, and youth unemployment, before he joined ThoughtWorks as the Director of Technology for the Office of Social Change Initiatives.

In this episode, Karl shares his experiences working in the donor community, from his unexpected entry into the field, to strengthening pandemic response in the Mekong basin, and even building open source communities with OpenMRS.

Along the way, we learn about the heavy responsibility that grant officers bear, how the Rockefeller Foundation thinks about catalytic funding, the value of honesty from grantees, and how donors can sometimes act like “herd animals”. If you’re interested in hearing a first-hand account of the work and decisions made by one grant officer in digital health, you’ll enjoy Karl’s reflections on his time at Rockefeller. 

Show Notes

  • The Rockefeller Foundation is a private American foundation created by John D. Rockefeller which manages an endowment of over 4 billion US dollars. It is the 39th largest U.S. Foundation as measured by total giving. Its focus includes global health and global poverty.
  • ThoughtWorks is a global technology company based in Chicago with over 7,000 employees worldwide. The company and its staff played a significant role in the popularization of agile software development. ThoughtWorks launched its Social Impact program in 2009.
  • Private Foundation Excise Taxes: Karl notes that program officers – who are a type of ‘foundation manager‘ – in private foundations can be fined for knowingly violating certain prohibitions with grants they recommend. This resource provides greater detail about the potential exposure of program officers to financial penalties through their work.
  • OpenMRS is an open source electronic medical record system designed for low-resource countries. It has been used in more than 80 countries worldwide.
  • Science in Action by Bruno LaTour is a book that Karl recommends for its discussion on the definition of science, as well as the relationship between science and those who fund science.
  • Paul Biondich: Karl gives a shout-out to Paul Biondich, a health informatics professional best known for his work founding the OpenMRS and OpenHIE communities.
  • The Open Health Information Exchange (OpenHIE) is a community of practice, an open architecture, and a set of standards designed to facilitate the sharing of data across different tools in a health system.