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2008 Annual Report

President's Report

President's Report

Leslie C. Aiello, Ph.D.

2008 has been both an extremely successful and a challenging year for the Foundation. The award of the first two Institutional Development Grants was a major highlight. These grants provide $125,000 over five years to support doctoral training in anthropology departments located in countries where the discipline is underrepresented and where there are limited resources to support academic development. Because of the high quality of the applications received, the Board of Trustees generously approved two Institutional Development Grants in 2008 rather than the anticipated one. The awards went to the Universidad Nacional de Cordoba, Cordoba, Argentina and to the National University of Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia (see Program Highlights). The Foundation looks forward to working closely with both of these institutions over the next five years to achieve their development goals.

Other highlights included three meetings sponsored under the International Symposia and Workshop program. One of these meetings was held at the Foundation offices in New York City ("The Anthropologist as Social Critic: Working towards a More Engaged Anthropology" sponsored in association with the American Anthropological Association), one was held in Portugal ("Working Memory and the Evolution of Modern Thinking"), and one in Santa Fe, New Mexico ("Corporate Lives: New Perspectives on the Social Life of the Corporate Form" sponsored in association with the School for Advanced Research). The outcomes of all of these meetings will be published as special issues of the Foundation-sponsored journal, Current Anthropology, under our new initiative to publish International Symposia outcomes in a form that is electronically accessable.

An additional meeting ("Sustaining Cultural and Biological Diversity in a Rapidly Changing World: Lessons for Global Policy") was held at the American Museum of Natural History and sponsored jointly by the Foundation, AMNH, and Terralingua (Salt Spring Island, BC). The Foundation was also represented at a number of anthropological meetings including the American Anthropological Association where we sponsored a Presidential symposium on "Anthropology Put to Work," ran a grant-writing workshop together with the National Science Foundation and co-organized an evening reception with Dr. Setha Low, the AAA President, and the AAA-sponsored Council on World Anthropologies. The reception highlighted the significance of the diversity of international voices and approaches to the field.

In 2008 the Foundation also partnered with the New York Academy of Sciences Anthropology Section to host monthly evening seminars. This initiative continues in the tradition of the Wenner-Gren supper conferences, which from 1944 until the late 1970s were an important feature the Foundation's intellectual involvement with the New York Anthropological Community. We are pleased to offer a venue to the NYAS Anthropology Section and look forward to a continuing collaboration in hosting these stimulating events.

The number of applications received by the Foundation continued to increase in 2008. Across our six major grant programs (Dissertation Fieldwork Grants, Post-Ph.D. Research Grants, Hunt Postdoctoral Fellowships, Conference and Workshop/Grants, International Collaborative Research Grants, and Wadsworth Fellowships) the number of applications received by the Foundation increased by 11% over 2007. The current year is our largest year to date and the Foundation is pleased that this reflects a vibrant international interest in anthropological research. The number of awards made in 2008 was, however, 3% less than in 2007. This decrease was primarily in the Dissertation Fieldwork and Post-Ph.D. Research Grants where the success rates were purposely reduced in the second half of the year. This was a direct response to the then deteriorating financial situation.

The Foundation is dependent entirely on its endowment and our major goal is to fund as many grants as possible while at the same time preserving the endowment for future generations of anthropologists. The primary focus in the last quarter of 2008 was to balance projected grant expenditures for both 2008 and 2009 against the reduced expected income from the endowment. This necessarily involved some difficult (and on-going) decisions in relation to success rates, maximum grant amounts, and possible program closures.

The Foundation survived similar financial conditions in the mid-1970s and as a result has continuingly planned for adverse financial circumstances. Part of the strategy is to fund large numbers of relatively small research projects rather than fewer numbers of costlier, long-term initiatives. This permits a rapid reduction (or increase) in success rates (and expenditure) as the situation requires. Our current strategy is to reduce the success rates across the Foundation's programs while at the same time to plan in detail for future possible funding reductions as may be necessary.

I would like to thank the Board of Trustees and the Wenner-Gren staff for their ongoing support and trust through these current very trying times. We are all determined to carry on the Foundation's mission to support anthropological research now and in the future. There is no reason to believe that we will not be entirely successful in this endeavor.

Leslie C. Aiello
President, Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, Inc.