Piper Trust Investment in Health Outcomes at ASU

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Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust President and CEO Dr. Judy Mohraz and ASU President Dr. Michael Crow discuss the $10-million dollar investment fund Piper Trust has established at ASU that the university will use to improve the delivery of health care.

Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. A superior court judge orders Arizona to finish rolling out its voter-approved medical marijuana program. The state initially registered patients to possess and use medical marijuana, but under the direction of governor Jan Brewer the state refused to license marijuana dispensaries while it challenged parts of the law in court. The order issued late Wednesday by a Maricopa County superior court judge requires the state to implement its medical marijuana program and overturned plans restrictions as to who can open a dispensary. The governor has the option to appeal the ruling. The Virginia piper charitable trust today announced a major investment in Arizona state University. The trust will put $2 million a year for five years in a fund that ASU will use to improve the delivery of health care. Here to tell us more about the $10 million investment fund is ASU president Michael Crow. And piper trust president and CEO Dr. Judy Mohraz. Good to see you both here. Thanks for joining us. Give me a better definition of what a strategic investment fund is.

Judy Mohraz: Well, imagine venture capital. Imagine critical early dollars that can attract many more dollars. And that can have effects and consequences well beyond those initial seed funds. So what the trustees did was to say to president crow, what do you need to really move forward and propel this vision you have for health outcomes at ASU? And what kind of funds do you need to move in a variety of areas? Not just one, not just two, but across the board? So that's what the fund is there for, and we expect a return on the investment to be astonishing.

Ted Simons: Talk about the expected return on this particular investment. What kind of return should we look for?

Michael Crow: I think there's two things to focus on. First and most importantly is our focus of all of the University's assets that will use this internal investment fund to bring together to catalyze new know-how, new techniques, new tools that are focused on community health outcomes. Not the University's outcome, but the community's health outcomes, and the seed fund, the catalyst fund, whatever you want to call it, will be used to grow what we hope will be $100 million a year sustained knowledge production program which has as its sole objective, not the production of the knowledge itself, but knowledge that measurably affects both the positive health outcomes for Arizonans as well as lower costs for those positive health outcomes.

Ted Simons: The investment is spread across the University through a variety of disciplines?

Michael Crow: What we'll do is focus on a number of initiatives where we bring teams of people together that are already at the University that normally wouldn't work together. Computer scientists working with educators, working with psychologist, social scientists, others, bring them together to develop and then seed fund these new ideas and then advance these new ideas out into the marketplace for ideas. Attract additional resources for those ideas and move the solutions into the health outcomes arena.

Ted Simons: Are there metrics to make sure what you want to see done is getting done that results are happening out there? How do you make sure that -- see what success is going on out there?

Judy Mohraz: I think the first thing is look at the track record of the people involved. And the piper trust over the last decade has made before this grant, over $30 million of investments in ASU. And every single time we have seen the return on the investment. We have seen the measurable results. You recruit a Nobel laureate, beginning a center for sustainable health. Luring away from Harvard one of the top international proteomics experts, then creating international networks of support. We know what has happened with the dollars that have invested so far, we will clearly work out metrics to track and applaud what will be a hit.

Ted Simons: I want to get to some of the initiatives in a second here, but were there specifics? You said basically you asked Dr. Crow what do you need in a variety of ways. But were you asking what do you need within a narrow framework?

Judy Mohraz: Well, one of the areas that the trust has been very interested in is the way that Arizona and particularly the valley, has become this center for bioscience innovation. This center for health innovation. And the trust has made some major investments in this area with ASU, with TGEN to support that, and so certainly we knew that health delivery, one of the intractable issues in the United States related to what we had already invested in. We knew that obesity, which afflicts nearly one out of every four children in Arizona, this matters to us because children are another area. So there was an alignment between the goals of the University and the goals of this foundation.

Ted Simons: You mentioned obesity. One of the initiatives does look at obesity, and the epidemic partnering in this case with the Mayo Clinic. Again, collaboration, partnership, part of the process.

Michael Crow: The way that -- to look at this is, if we're not satisfied with how we're doing relative to obesity, we're not satisfied with the cost of health care, it means that something in the actual structural model of how we do things, how we organize, how we solve problems, how we produce knowledge, isn't right. And what we need -- or isn't complete. And so what we're doing is saying, let's now go back and look at these things like obesity, let's look at how we attack the problem. If you can attack the problem by bringing all the disciplines together rather than some of the disciplines, can we find a way to actually produce tools, routines, educational pedagogies, whatever it is we might produce, that could help lead to a measurable reduction in the obesity epidemic here in Arizona by putting new ways of thinking on the table and advancing them.

Ted Simons: And other new ways of thinking in terms of health care is prevention and nutrition, exercise, these sorts of things. That's one of the initiatives here. Looking at world data to help best handle worldwide epidemics, that's in here as well. That's a lot of ground to cover.

Michael Crow: The way to look at this is, this is the case where the problem space we're working in, health outcomes, is very broad. And what we're doing is taking all the talent that we have at the University and sort of organizing it into about 10 or so specific investment realms, we're going to bet on 10 places we think we can ultimately have a major contribution in terms of improving health outcomes and lowering cost. I can guarantee you not all 10 would work. So it's very much like a venture capital model. You make 10 bets, you hope that several of them will be wildly successful, and that's the approach that we're taking with this particular investment.

Ted Simons: Is that a somewhat refreshing or at least innovative if not new approach to higher education, research outcomes?

Judy Mohraz: Well, I think ASU is the embodiment of innovation. It is the 21st century University of innovation. And I think the idea of risk capital is something that is central to philanthropy today. If you only make safe bets, you're not going to have a catalytic change that foundations hope and work to achieve.

Ted Simons: Is that something that's changed?

Judy Mohraz: I think it has. I think that originally there was more emphasis on good charitable grants. And those are still important. And always will be. But now the question really is what is the impact? What will be not -- it's not the dollars that matter. It's that long tail of impact that follows. So I think foundations are looking at strategic investments, they know that not all of them will be successful. But they believe that it's the big bets that can really bring the kind of change that can make this country more livable, more economically stable, more humane.

Ted Simons: These efforts that we're talking about here, how do these efforts fit into your vision for ASU?

Michael Crow: Well, they fit into the vision in the following way. We as an institution have an articulated version where we, when we do research we want to do research to benefit community. We're very much driven by yes, we want to achieve the campuses dem irk recognition of great papers and medals and great awards for our faculty and our students, but we want to take one step beyond that. We want that energy now to be focused on certain kinds of outcomes. We have health outcomes right now which are not good. We're spending 20% almost 20% of our economy on health outcomes. And we're securing poor health outcomes overall within the country for the level of investment that we're making. We need to change that to change that we think is a responsibility that we as a University need to contribute all of our energy and all of our talent to this. So it fits very well with the design of ASU, the orientation of ASU, and the way we've structured our knowledge enterprise.

Ted Simons: Last question for you, is there a message that goes along with this particular investment?

Judy Mohraz: I think one of the messages is our faith in ASU as an economic engine, as a catalytic force in the valley. And that it's not just new knowledge. But we believe this will affect the lives of the people who live here. Our own neighbors.

Ted Simons: Is that a message that needs to be reinforced?

Judy Mohraz: I think higher education is the key to Arizona's future in terms of jobs, in terms of health, in terms of well-being. So I would simply say to everyone, you know, ASU is an investment that deserves our support.

Ted Simons: It's good to have you both here. Thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate it.

Dr. Judy Mohraz:President and CEO, Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust; Dr. Michael Crow:ASU President;

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