Many have heard that Bill and Melinda Gates and George Lucas have pledged to give away at least half of their money when they die. A third philanthropist now belongs to this group: Jeffrey Skoll, the first president of eBay and now the founder and chairman of the Skoll Foundation, Participant Media, and the Skoll Global Threats Fund.
Jeffrey Skoll is still very much alive and, recognizing growing dangers to planet Earth, has entrepreneurial goals that are global and ambitious.
He founded his parent organization, the Skoll Foundation, in 1999 in Palo Alto. Jeffrey serves as chairman, hires staff, and strategizes by setting up international meetings.
Located in a Presidio office with 11 employees, the Skoll Global Threats Fund was established in 2009. The fund assesses conditions and events in the world that are affecting and threatening the lives of people everywhere. The Global Threats Fund’s mission is to confront global threats that imperil humanity by seeking solutions, strengthening alliances, and spurring actions needed to safeguard the future.
“Jeffrey Skoll is a social entrepreneur,” says Bruce Lowry, the fund’s director of policy and communications. “Our vision is of a sustainable world of peace and prosperity,” adds Lowry, who emphasizes that the organization’s activities are designed for global and not local impact.
That vision encompasses challenges in the areas of pandemics, climate change, water accessibility, nuclear proliferation, and Middle East conflicts.
All of Skoll’s funds and organizations have the same goal: to provide help in the world through international interaction. There is no fundraising in any of his groups; Jeffrey Skoll is the only source of financial support. His wealth allows him to call upon scientists, medical specialists, or any of a number of professionals at a moment’s notice, and he is able to afford the best in any field.
The work of the Skoll Foundation, which has an international reputation, is generally not known locally. In the past 12 years, the Skoll Foundation has awarded more than $315 million in funding to 91 social entrepreneurs and 74 organizations across 5 continents. Lowry cites an example of a program the foundation invests in called Room to Read, which builds libraries in Nepal.
Participant Media is a spinoff organization formed in 2004. This fund supports important films that have an activist message including Syriana, The Help, The Kite Runner, Contagion, and most recently Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
The concern over possible pandemics certainly crosses borders. The Global Threats Fund has created groups of medical professionals who are able to act quickly in the face of a widespread breakout of disease.
“Victory is not having something happen,” says Lowry. He added that what was made clear from the AIDS pandemic is to react earlier to any new virus.
Larry Brilliant, M.D. is president and CEO of the Global Threats Fund. Brilliant is board-certified in preventive medicine and previously was vice president of Google and executive director of Google.org.
The fund eschews long-range bureaucratic processes; rather, there are instances when quick, decisive action is required. Brilliant works with The Ploughshares Fund, which, like the Skoll Global Threats Fund, stresses the immediacy of their actions. The Ploughshares website summarizes this shared vision:
Sometimes, opportunities are lost if one has to wait for a proposal deadline. Ploughshares Fund has the ability to turn on a dime with discretionary grants that pay for that last minute plane ticket for the best scientist to present new research at an important conference or the extra call center to get that last Senator’s vote.
Lowry points to nuclear threats as another area where the two nonprofits work together.
“There is the issue of cutting nuclear programs without hurting national defense,” he says. “Today is different from the days of the Cold War when the threat of nuclear war existed between the United States and the Soviet Union. We can think about cutting further.”
Climate change is also an active challenge for the fund. Participant Media was actually behind the movie An Inconvenient Truth, according to Lowry.
“Our fund financially supports Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project, and we’ve also funded other groups working on climate change,” Lowry said.
If Jeffrey Skoll were to be asked what he would do if he won the lottery, his answer would probably be, “Work for world peace, health and prosperity.”
To everyone’s benefit, eBay provided his lottery and Skoll is living his dream.
For a complete look at the full scope of achievements and goals of the Skoll Global Threats Fund, visit www.skollglobalthreats.net.