It was when their son was diagnosed with bipolar disorder that Theodore and Vada Stanley decided they wanted to help other stricken with similar problems. And they took action. They founded the Stanley Family Foundation in 1985 with the intention of supporting mental health research and services. The foundation also supports the arts and education, but it is the area of mental health research which is at the main focus of the foundation’s efforts.
Two products of the foundation are the Stanley Medical Research Institute and the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research. Their mission is to ease the pain of psychiatric disorders through research into their causes. It is a huge task. The World Health Organisation estimates that the largest single cause of disability across the world is psychiatric disorder.
Mr and Mrs Stanley’s support has never wavered. They have been giving half of their income to important causes for more than 25 years. Most of that has gone into medical research into psychiatric disorders. It is a major commitment. To date they have given more than $650 million and the philanthropy is continuing.
Private philanthropy is not a major player in the medical research area. In 2007 foundations spent under $5 billion on medicine. Under half of that went into research. Government agencies in the US spent $40 billion on medical research. Biotech and pharmaceutical businesses invest about $80 billion in development and research a year.
But there is one critical advantage that private philanthropy has. Individual philanthropists do not have to listen to shareholders. They do not have to take any notice of the conditions that are always attached to government funding. They can go their own way. They can try new paths, take risks and innovate freely. And in the specific field of research into bipolar disorder and schizophrenia the Stanley Institute is a major player.
As Theodore Stanley says, it is pointless to create a huge amount of wealth that you will never spend. Leaving a massive amount to your children is as likely to harm them as help them. The Stanleys decided to try to do some good with their money. And there has been a silver lining. They began their philanthropy expecting to get nothing back. “We have come to know a number of wonderful people we would not otherwise have met. It happens when you go in this direction: you meet interesting and inspiring people who are out there trying to make this a better world. These are some of the best people you will ever know.”