I’m the corporate vice president of worldwide tax at Microsoft, and I became involved in MS research when one of the employees in my department was diagnosed with the disease. He was the first person I knew with MS. But after I became a member of the board of the National MS Society’s Greater Northwest chapter, I learned there are a lot more people with MS than I ever thought. In the Pacific Northwest, it’s hard to find someone who doesn’t know somebody who’s been impacted by MS.
Since I joined the Greater Northwest board in 2007, I’ve donated $300,000 to the Society’s commercial research mechanism Fast Forward (which closes the gap between promising discoveries and the commercial development necessary to get new treatments to people with MS), and about $200,000 to other Society research programs. One of the reasons I’ve supported MS research to this extent is because I have a sense of urgency and want to have an impact. We still don’t know what causes MS. That seems to be a pretty fundamental question that we need to answer, and I think you need research to do that. And the Society is starting to do much more work in the progressive MS area, which again requires a lot of research.
So if research is a way to have an impact and you want to have a lot of impact, I think the Society’s Fast Forward initiative is the way to do it. Fast Forward is a great example of innovative thinking by the Society. It’s designed to create a lot of leverage to really maximize MS R&D activities.
Coming from the Microsoft context, people want to go big or go home. We’re also very familiar with the venture capital model for high-tech startups and the leverage that gives those start-ups. Fast Forward is, in essence, the Society’s venture capital fund. A lot of promising research fails because it’s hard to raise money at what’s called “the valley of death” stage—when you need to demonstrate proof of concept. So Fast Forward’s focus is to provide money to promising research projects to help them through these phases. For instance, the Society contributed a total of $1 million for research on two new drugs, and that money was able to attract $250 million in additional investments. I call that leverage. And that’s how you get impact—making every dollar the Society invests go as far as possible.
While my goal is to get people to participate in MS research at what would be a meaningful level for their financial situation, I think it’s equally important to donate your time and energy. Regardless of your ability to contribute financially, the Society is a great place to volunteer. I get a great sense of fulfillment through working with people who want to end MS forever and are trying to have a big impact on that.
We have maybe a dozen people in the Microsoft tax department who are involved in MS activities, either in terms of cash donations or through Walk or Bike MS—the two largest fundraising events for the Greater Pacific Northwest chapter. Putting a team together, supporting a team, keeping communications going among team groups, getting team members to go out and get sponsors—you can leverage your physical activity into a significant amount of money. So it really takes both financial and time donations to successfully fund MS research.