NET WORTH: $950 million
SOURCE OF WEALTH: Google
FUNDING AREAS: Global development, women’s education
OVERVIEW: Craig Silverstein views his philanthropy as a work in progress (as it is for many younger donors). When he and his wife Mary Obelnicki signed the Giving Pledge in 2014, they both admitted as much. And while the couple has been funding girls' education issues through their Echidna Giving Fund since 2006, they still regularly ask experts to guide their philanthropy.
BACKGROUND: Craig Silverstein is famously known as Google’s first employee, after founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page (Read Brin and Page’s IP profiles). Silverstein joined Google in 1998 when he was a Ph.D. student at Stanford. After spending 14 years with Google, Silverstein departed from the company to take a position as the dean of infrastructure at Khan Academy, a nonprofit online education organization. When describing his decision, Silverstein states that he was looking to work on solving one of the world’s tough problems—in this case, education or lack thereof.
PHILOSOPHY: When Craig Silverstein first embarked on his personal philanthropic journey he admits that he was once “paralyzed by too many options.” (Silverstein gives a good account of his journey here.) Though he has since narrowed down his areas of focus, he continues to look for opportunities in which he can have the biggest impact with his funding dollars. Silverstein, that 70 percent of his money will go to "save the world," 20 percent will go for "personal causes" such as his alma maters, and 10 percent will go to projects that friends and family are involved in.
In 2009, he donated $5 million to the Florida-based Sebastian Ferrero Foundation. Luisa and Horst Ferrero established the foundation after their son, Sebastian, died at Shands Hospital in Gainesville, Florida in 2007. The clinic had made a series of unfortunate and preventable errors while their three-year-old was receiving routine tests for a growth hormone deficiency. Silverstein’s gift went toward establishing a new full-service children’s hospital in Gainesville, Florida. Silverstein stated “Growing up the child of two doctors, I understand the important role medical care plays in the community. The more I hear about this project, the more excited I am by it." He’s also a Gainesville native.
GLOBAL DEVELOPMENT: One of the first decisions Silverstein made was to focus his efforts on the developing world. In a blog post, he said, “A million dollars on cancer or diabetes could make hardly any difference; a million dollars on iodine supplements could change millions of lives.” In 2009, Silverstein made a donation to the Grameen Foundation.
EDUCATION FOR GIRLS/WOMEN: With the goal to eradicate global poverty, Silverstein became interested in funding education for women and girls in developing countries. According to Silverstein, "all sorts of problems in developing countries are made worse by excluding half of the society from participating, economically, politically, and intellectually." He later turned to the expertise of Global Fund for Women for guidance. Both he and his wife, Mary Obelnicki, work to forward education for girls and women in developing countries through the Echidna Giving Fund. The fund’s main goal is to join forces with experts, practitioners, and organizations to advance girls’ education in the developing world. The fund has invested in programs such as Room to Read, the Global Fund for Children and the Brookings Institution, which oversees the Echidna Global Scholars Program, a program started in 2011 which provides fellowships for leaders in girls' education.
LOOKING AHEAD: Silverstein voiced his plan to give away his money before his death. He has given himself a 50-year time frame to do so, with a rough budget of his annual donations in the different categories mentioned above.
- Kim Wright Violich, Principal Consultant and Acting President, Echidna Giving Fund, email@example.com,