10 to Watch for 2012

Wendy Lawton

Research Development Director, Lifespan


Development/Health Care

"We have big, global challenges that we need to fix, and we have enormously rich resources in this state to tackle these problems."

“Knowledge Economy” is a buzzword among those interested in economic development, particularly in Providence, where there is an ongoing attempt to rebrand the historic Jewelry District as the new and vibrant Knowledge District. While this nebulous vision of creative, highly educated minds working in high-tech industries and innovative startups is both intriguing and promising, how does that vision translate into reality?

For Wendy Lawton, it translates into the state’s largest health care system and biggest private employer creating a privately funded endowment for the sole purpose of supporting cutting edge research – research that could result in new treatments, new drugs, new diagnostics, and more effective, efficient health care services. As Lifespan’s first ever Research Development Director, Lawton is charged with putting together a $6 million endowment through philanthropy, the first time medical research will have that kind of dedicated funding stream independent of a company’s operating budget.

The former newspaper reporter brings a journalist’s insatiable intellectual curiosity into the science world, enlivening with passion what is normally rather clinical work. It will serve her well, as a big part of her job will be getting potential donors excited about the possibilities.

“The very broad aim is to give researchers more opportunities to innovate and try something new,” she says. “Research is increasingly becoming collaborative. If we need to put some skin in the game, this gives us the skin.” When work with partners like Care New England, Brown, URI and various state agencies bears fruit, Lifespan will have the dollars to seed new ideas in the proof of concept phase, provide bridge funding for ongoing research that is between grants, and buy equipment necessary to make it all happen.

Lifespan already has almost 1,000 people employed in research, and plans to expand its footprint the in Knowledge District and the former I-195 land. With this new weight to throw behind such research efforts, the company can position itself at the forefront of the city’s Knowledge Economy. What does that mean for the rest of us? Lawton is succinct: “Better health care and more jobs.”

30-Second Bio:

• Is a native of Camillus, New York, a western suburb of Syracause.

• Has a nine-year-old daughter, “the incomparable Lucy.”

• Received a BA in communications from UMass Amherst, and a Master’s in journalism from NYU.

• Twitter Handle: @wendylawton1

• Began her career as a medicine and health reporter for The Oregonian; worked at Brown University doing media relations for the life sciences department, then corporate and foundation relations (fundraising) for science and technology.

• Serves on the board of the Rhode Island Museum of Science and Art.

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