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Real Philanthropy | Learning by Proxy
There are too many people pretending to do good in the world but a few really are doing the good work.
Earlier this year I had written a piece on Philanthropy where I had mentioned how the wealthy have been using foundations as a vehicle for tax evasion. In fact, under the guise of charitable foundations, these billionaires are using these are vehicles to influence policy across the world to get preferential treatment and make themselves even more wealthy.
As the year draws to a close and a new one dawns I want to write about the good things that are happening in philanthropy. Of all the Billionaires out there, one seems to be taking ‘giving away’ seriously and doing a good job of it.
For those of you who do not know, she is the former wife of Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos.
Scott has not only begun to make good on her word, but she’s doing so at a record pace and with total control over where her money goes: In a little more than two years, Scott, who is worth $57 billion, has given $8.6 billion to 780 organizations promoting issues including gender equity, racial justice, public health and beyond. She has done so without an office or even a mailing address, and with scant evidence of a full-time staff. Instead she works with her husband Dan, researchers and advisers from nonprofit consulting firm Bridgespan. She answers to no one, has no board of directors (that we know of) and, because she’s not making gifts through a charitable foundation, no reporting requirements, either. (In comparison, the Gates Foundation, which has nearly 1,800 employees, made $5.8 billion in grants in 2020. Scott distributed slightly more than $5.8 billion that year.)
And, crucially, she employs a “no-strings attached” giving philosophy, meaning each organization can use the funds however they see fit. “It empowers receivers by making them feel valued and by unlocking their best solutions,” Scott wrote on Medium in June.
Just for perspective; Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has 1763 employees across 9 offices. Giving money away should not require that many people. You just need one person to sign the cheques is it not?
There are others who are also stepping up to put more money where it is really needed. One of the crusaders comes from the unlikeliest of places. Robert Downey Jr, better known for his role as Iron Man is bringing a group of philanthropists together to provide fast grants to scientists who are working on challenging problems.
If we really want to get the planet to net zero emissions, we need to transform how we produce and consume electricity. We need newer, more-efficient transportation, and a food supply that doesn’t rely on deforestation. We need climate-friendly agriculture and better ways to preserve ecosystems. We must capture and remove existing greenhouse gases. We need constant iteration for efficiency. For all the above we need the best minds working on the right problems, and quickly.
Unfortunately, if there’s one major shortcoming of our existing scientific institutions, it’s speed. In the earliest days of the pandemic, as researchers raced to understand COVID-19 and test ideas for response, a group of outsider philanthropists stepped up to create Fast Grants for quick-turnaround financial resources for new questions and ideas. The program did more than just fund projects, it showed that there was a more effective, less bureaucratic way to support scientists.
Funding risky research first requires bets on risky new models. To help stop the leaks on the scientific talent funnel, our team is launching a new program: the FootPrint Coalition Science Engine.
We are in the business of supporting entrepreneurial scientists and we are in agreement that the major impediments are the obvious limitations of decision-making by committee. We’re trying something different. FootPrint Coalition is funding early research in brand new environmental fields, and doing it under the direction of esteemed Science Leads who can move quickly and fund at their discretion. The FootPrint Coalition Science Engine builds off suggestions made in the Funding Risky Research paper. It operationalizes the “loose-play funding for early-stage risky explorations” but doesn’t bind it to universities.
We’re doing it “in public” on the Experiment funding platform, a website for crowdfunding science research projects, so anyone can participate as a cofunder.
Source: Fast Company
In the meantime, Laurene Powell Jobs is taking a slightly different track to do her giving. She created the Emerson Collective, but unlike other Billionaires who hide under the guise of a foundation, she has incorporated it as an LLC. She is using the money to invest in causes that she believes in and supporting entrepreneurs others may not necessarily.
The collective, as The Post describes it, is "equal parts think tank, foundation, venture capital fund, media baron, arts patron and activist hive." The collective invests in private companies not because the goal is to make money but because, she says, Silicon Valley has demonstrated that "amazing entrepreneurs who … are 100 percent aligned with our mission" can help find solutions that might elude a nonprofit.
Because Emerson is formed as a limited liability company rather than a foundation, it has the flexibility to do more than make grants to nonprofit groups. It can support advocacy groups, launch its own activist campaigns and contribute to political organizations.
"What's fascinating is that by listening to all these founders, she has basically put founders at the head of each of the sectors of Emerson Collective, so that she's really funding entrepreneurs inside the collective who want to disrupt their spaces," Conway told The Post. "She wants people to innovate in their sector -- education reform, getting the Dream Act passed. So Emerson has become like an accelerator for causes around social change."
But with this new crop of philanthropists, one sentiment seems to be clear, they are not going to be taking their wealth to their graves. Whether it is Laurene Powell Jobs…
“I inherited my wealth from my husband, who didn’t care about the accumulation of wealth,” she told the New York Times. “I’m not interested in legacy wealth buildings, and my children know that. If I live long enough, it ends with me.”
The sentiment, which she doesn’t appear to have expressed before, syncs with a building consensus among some of tech’s wealthiest people: That the rich should give away their money today, rather than later, and that the heirs of long-dead billionaires shouldn’t have so much power in society centuries later.
Or MacKenzie Scott
“My hope is that MacKenzie’s style of giving inspires the philanthropic sector, and inspires other donors to give in a way that supports bold, big visions,” says Favianna Rodriguez, who works to aid communities of color in Oakland, California. “We don't have a lot of time. We're looking at the crisis of the epidemic, the economic crisis, the climate crisis, and this moment of racial reckoning.”
With $57 billion still to give away, Scott has big plans to continue to affect real change and have a lasting impact on the historically underfunded and overlooked. As she puts it: “Generosity is generative. Sharing makes more.”
So in the end, it seems like it really is possible to give away a lot of money. As the old adage goes; if there is a will, there is a way.