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October / 2011

The John Merck Fund to Spend Out, Refocus Programs

The John Merck Fund has announced it will spend all of its assets over the next ten years to spur progress in clean energy, environmental health, development of a New England regional food system, and treatment of developmental disabilities.

The Boston-based foundation, established in 1970 by the late Serena Merck and now in its third generation of family leadership, currently holds $80 million in assets. Under a plan approved by its board of trustees, The John Merck Fund will begin the spendout in January 2012, award its last grants in 2021 and close its doors in 2022. Allowing for investment income earned during the ten-year period, the foundation estimates that total grantmaking could approach $100 million.

“The challenges posed by oil dependence, exposure to chemicals, unhealthy foods and developmental disabilities are enormous, but so are the opportunities for progress,” said George Hatch, The John Merck Fund’s board chair and a grandson of the founding donor. “Our board feels the Fund should contribute all it can to help propel extraordinary initiatives taking shape in these issue areas. We believe extra effort today will boost the odds of dramatic improvement down the road.”

In conjunction with its spendout plan, The John Merck Fund is revamping its four grant programs, developing cross-program synergies, and preparing to make complementary mission-related investments in order to achieve maximum impact during the next decade.

Two of the programs, Clean Energy and Regional Food Systems, will focus exclusively on New England, while the Health and the Environment and Developmental Disabilities programs will remain national in scope.

Clean Energy Program grants will promote the development of a clean-energy economy in the six-state New England region. Specifically, the program will seek improved air quality and a ten-year, region-wide greenhouse gas emissions reduction of 20 percent by supporting projects to boost energy efficiency, reduce use of coal and other fossil fuels, and expand the New England’s clean energy market.  One of the Fund’s objectives is that the region becomes coal-free within ten years.

Regional Food Systems Program grants will help strengthen innovation and entrepreneurship in New England’s expanding market for regionally and sustainably grown food by funding initiatives to develop institutional demand and the regional supply network.

Health and the Environment Program grants will support development and implementation of market signals and government policies that encourage a transition away from petroleum-based chemicals linked to preventable diseases.

The Developmental Disabilities Program, the Fund’s original grantmaking area, will shift its focus from basic research to clinical and translational research, with primary emphasis on children who have Fragile X or Down syndromes.  The goal is to help these children and their families by encouraging research collaborations that bridge basic and clinical science, more rapid translation of findings into treatment settings, and promulgation of best clinical practices.

“The board and staff of The John Merck Fund have spent almost a year developing what we believe to be an ambitious yet realistic set of goals and funding strategies,” said Ruth Hennig, the foundation’s executive director. “We are all excited about embarking on the next decade with a sharpened purpose and focus.”