Inside Paul Allen's $100 Million Ebola Give, and Where His Philanthropy Is Headed

When last we reported on Paul Allen’s efforts to tackle the Ebola crisis, he had committed approximately $20 million to the cause. It’s now a little over a month later, and he's upped the ante to $100 million. 

That's a big move, one that puts an exclamation point on the analysis of Allen that we offered when he made his first Ebola gift. I wrote then:

Allen's philanthropy has been changing, and broadening, in just the past year or two. He's getting involved in more stuff through his foundation's Global Initiatives program, including a big jump into protecting the health of oceans and a growing foray into wildlife conservation... All this feels like a big pivot point in Allen's philanthropy... The broader picture here is of a philanthropist who's beginning to look up and around at the broader array of challenge facing the planet, and showing a new appetite for making a wider impact. 

Related - Paul Allen's Big Moment: What's Behind His Surprising Leadership on Ebola?

We wanted to know more about why Allen has stepped up his action on Ebola, why he chose this issue to begin with, and also how he how he decides which organizations to support and what else we might expect from Allen’s philanthropy as a whole. So recently we spoke Dune Ives, the co-manager of Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. Here are some excerpts from our conversation: 

IP: What prompted Paul to take the lead on Ebola? 

DI: Paul cares deeply about West Africathe people, the landscape, the wildlife. Earlier this year, we launched the Great Elephant Census in partnership with Elephants without Borders, and he has been focused on the region prior to the Census, including funding research on Ebola with Great Apes. It was on his radar from the very beginning, and he was asking what we could do to help. Watching the crisis escalate early on, he asked, “Is anybody calculating the exponential growth on this?” 

IP: That’s a very interesting way of looking at the problem, and seems to reflect his background as a tech entrepreneur. 

DI: Yes, it definitely shows how his brain works. He’s very big into using metrics and foundational data to analyze problems and figure out how to make the greatest impact, and this was something he felt we could really help the global community get out in front of. 

IP: Since you brought up the elephants, let’s switch gears for a minute and talk about what else the foundation is working on. Until recently, Allen has been known primarily for funding brain research and local giving in the Pacific Northwest, but in addition to the focus on Ebola, we’ve also seen an expanded focus on the environment lately. Should these be seen as part of a larger effort for the foundation to make more of a global impact, and are there other issues that you have your eye  on? 

DI: Absolutely. In addition to the Great Elephant Census, we’ve recently funded projects aimed at better understanding the fishing industry’s impact on marine ecosystems, and mitigating the effects of ocean acidification. We also recently launched a partnership with DonorsChoose.org called Teach for the Planet, and are beginning to look more heavily at education and climate change. 

IP: Out of the $100 million the foundation has committed to fighting Ebola, how much of it has already been given out, or at least earmarked for specific programs, and soon can we expect to see the rest of the money distributed? 

DI: About half of the money has already been distributed or pledged to specific organizations, and we are working with these NGOs and government agencies in the region to identify where the remainder of the funds can be used most effectively.

    IP: Can you explain how organizations are selected for funding?

    DI: The NGOs on the ground and the local government agencies have been instrumental in identifying gaps in the overall plan to address the crisis, and bringing us projects that can help fill those gaps. Since our goal is to leverage the funds we’re committing to the cause to encourage other people to donate as well, part of our strategy in doing this has been to provide a range of projects that meet different interests. That way, whether you’re passionate about helping orphans or funding preventative health measures, there is a project for you to support. 

    IP: Paul obviously has a strong relationship with Bill Gates, and the Gates Foundation is known for its work on global health, and has also made a $50 million commitment to fight Ebola. Is it possible we could see some collaborative work here? 

    DI: We have been in close contact with the Gates Foundation and others, including the Skoll Foundation, the Hewlett Foundation, and the Page Family Foundation, in order to help coordinate our efforts. We haven’t established anything official yet, but the Gates Foundation really understands diagnostics and vaccines, so we’re exploring some possibilities there. They have also been great about sharing projects they think we might be interested in funding, and we will do the same for them.

    IP: Thanks for giving us the inside scoop. We're looking forward to seeing the results, and hearing more about what the foundation has planned. 

    * Some of the foundation's recent grants include:

    • An increased commitment of $12.9 million to the CDC
    • An $8 million partnership with the World Health Organization and the U.S. Department of State to ensure potentially infected medical professionals can be safely transported for treatment, including a $2.5 million matching grant to establish the Ebola Medevac Fund, designed to address the gap between what insurance will cover and the actual transport costs
    •  $7.5 million to UMass Medical School to provide decontamination and lab equipment, medical training, and community outreach and education in Liberia 
    • $1.5 million to BBC Media Action to support education and communications programs in the affected countries
    • $975,000 to CNN to create a documentary on the Ebola crisis
    • $2.2 million for additional media outreach programs
    • Opportunities for others to give through our #TackleEbola Campaign’s Projects in Need