AXA Case Study

Supporting philanthropy in achieving research excellence


About AXA Research Fund

The AXA Research Fund was launched by AXA Group in 2007 as a global science philanthropy initiative. The fund has an endowment of €200 million for the period 2007-2018.

The main focus of the AXA Research Fund is to support fundamental research related to risks, their understanding, prevention and mitigation. The funding granted is structured around three disciplinary areas: environmental risks, life risks and socio-economical risks. 

Through its activities, the AXA Research Fund not only intends to attract, select and support promising early career scientists and leading researchers,  it also aims at encouraging them to fuel public debate and to help in the better management or prevention of risks. 

As of Jan 1 2016, the AXA Research Fund has supported 492 projects implemented by researchers of 51 nationalities, in 33 countries.

The Challenge

The AXA Research Fund was willing to further enhance the process for the scientific assessment of proposals and to have access to a much wider network of researchers.

The Research Fund was keen on further increasing the independence of the assessment process by outsourcing it to a neutral third party. 

They were also looking at buffering the very high workload arising in collecting and assessing almost 400 postdoctoral fellowship applications as well as relying on an efficient online platform.

Following discussions on potential collaboration and a pilot phase in 2013, the AXA Research Fund tasked ESF with collecting, and assessing the scientific merit of, the applications submitted in response to its calls for postdoctoral fellowships and this has been ongoing since 2014.

The solution

ESF closely worked with the AXA Research Fund team to find ways to improve the assessment process of the postdoctoral fellowships applications. Besides setting up dedicated panels and developing ad-hoc procedures, this also included revisiting call documentation, proposal template and assessment forms. 

Every year since 2014, ESF sets up three review panels that are in charge first of shortlisting the best outline applications and then to rank-order applicants, based on more substantial applications and external evaluations provided by additional selected experts. To support this process, from collecting applications, to interacting with experts and eventually providing results and assessment reports, ESF is providing a dedicated user-friendly online platform.

The results

Since 2014, ESF collected and assessed 1,196 postdoctoral fellowship applications for the AXA Research fund. 

At the conclusion of each annual review process, the members of the review panels provide detailed feedback to ESF. These are compiled, synthetized and discussed with the AXA Research Fund team. This feedback loop allows for the continuous improvement of the process. 

This very constructive collaboration between ESF and the AXA Research Fund led to the scope of the assessments being extended to the AXA Chairs scheme from 2017 onwards. It also enabled collaboration in other areas including foresight workshops and career tracking.

The AXA Chair scheme is intended to support a significant step change in the development of a research area within a host Institution and to contribute in a distinctive way to the development of that research area in line with the Institution’s long term strategy. 

It aims at creating a full-time academic position in the host Institution and fostering a step-change in the career of the appointed AXA Professor. In 2017, the AXA Research Fund is dedicating up to €5 million to support 4 to 6 Chairs, with a duration ranging from 5-15 years (depending on the wishes of the host Institution).


“The AXA Research Fund initiated a partnership with the European Science Foundation two years ago. ESF has demonstrated great skills in conducting the Post-Doctoral Campaign peer review process. ESF is now handling more than 400 applications yearly for us. Their extensive experience, the quality of their network of researchers and reviewers, as well as the professionalism of ESF coordination team has proven to be key assets to support the philanthropic initiative of the AXA Group. It ensures fairness, robustness and transparency of the process and allows the AXA Research Fund to meet the highest standards of an academic selection process.”

Godefroy Beauvallet, Former Head of the AXA Research Fund