FUNDING AREAS: Education, immigration, environment, and policy and advocacy
SOURCE OF WEALTH: Apple Inc., Walt Disney
NET WORTH: $18.5 billion
OVERVIEW: The widow of Apple founder Steve Jobs is known as a rather private person, and her group, the Emerson Collective, keeps a low profile. Much of Powell Jobs's philanthropy is done under the radar. "If you total up in your mind all of the philanthropic investments that Laurene has made that the public knows about, that is probably a fraction of 1 percent of what she actually does," her friend and fellow philanthropist Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen has said.
BACKGROUND: Powell Jobs grew up in West Milford, New Jersey, and attended the University of Pennsylvania as an undergrad, receiving a B.A. in political science and a B.S. in economics from the Wharton School of Business. She worked at Merrill Lynch and then Goldman Sachs before getting her MBA from Stanford. She married the Apple co-founder and former CEO in 1991, and had three children with him. They were together for 20 years before her husband succumbed to pancreatic cancer in 2011 at the age of 56.
PHILOSOPHY: Powell Jobs has adopted a philosophy of quiet philanthropy that emphasizes causes, organizations, and individuals she supports, rather than herself. "We're really careful about amplifying the great work of others in every way that we can, and we don't like attaching our names to things," Powell Jobs once said in an interview before her husband died. The Emerson Collective — the organization she co-founded as a means of advancing her philanthropic work — is set up as an LLC rather than a 501(c)3, giving her the ability to make grants, investments and political donations without having to report them publicly. Although Powell Jobs prefers to remain behind the scenes, she tends to be actively involved in the causes she cares about.
EDUCATION: Education is a major focus of Powell Jobs’s giving. In 1997, she co-founded a nonprofit called College Track. College Track runs extracurricular programs and tutoring services, mostly for underserved minorities who are first-generation college students and often the first in their family to finish high school. Starting in Palo Alto, College Track has expanded to locations in San Francisco, Oakland, Sacramento, Los Angeles, New Orleans and Aurora, Colorado. Not only is Powell Jobs the chair of the organization, she is also involved in providing mentorship to students.
Powell Jobs has served on the boards of education organizations at times, including Teach for America. She is particularly interested in results-driven reform ventures and makes strategic investments through the Emerson Collective in organizations and entrepreneurs seeking to improve education outcomes. Grants and investments support a wide array of work in this area.
In 2015, Powell Jobs launched XQ: The Super School Project, with the stated goal of hosting "an open contest inviting teams to reimagine the American high school." Since then, the collective has committed $100 million for 10 new model high schools across the country.
IMMIGRATION REFORM: Through College Track, Powell Jobs came to see firsthand that there were many bright, enterprising young students who came to the United States illegally at a young age. She helped these students graduate high school, but they were ineligible for citizenship or for state or federal college assistance. She described the situation as "a purgatory that [these children continue to] find themselves in." Powell Jobs said, "It is one of these issues that seems discordant with what our country stands for." So when legislators proposed the DREAM Act, Powell Jobs commissioned Academy Award-winning filmmaker Davis Guggenheim to produce a 30-minute film titled The Dream is Now to raise awareness and support for the issue. More publicly vocal on this issue than is characteristic, she has discussed her support in interviews and held screenings for groups of elected officials and at college campuses across the country.
ENVIRONMENT: Powell Jobs sits on the board of Conservation International, an organization that supports environmental science, policy and fieldwork geared toward protecting resources and creating sustainable development paths. Conservation International has major initiatives addressing food, fresh water, climate change, biodiversity, environmental protection, human health, and human culture.
The Emerson Collective also features a component called Emerson Elemental, which takes a holistic approach to environmental sustainability. Elemental's website states, "We understand how threats to our natural world are deeply interwoven with societal challenges—inequity, polarity, economic instability, and inaccessibility to technology. As we prioritize our problem solving through a lens of justice and societal progress, we strengthen humanity."
OTHER ISSUES: Another affiliate of the Emerson Collective is Chicago CRED, an initiative run by former U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, which seeks to stem violence in Chicago by connecting unemployed residents in the city with jobs and investing in entrepreneurs.
Powell Jobs has also demonstrated an interest in bolstering independent media, with the Emerson Collective acquiring a major stake in The Atlantic in July 2017 (majority ownership is expected by 2022). The Emerson Collective has also supported several other media organizations such as ProPublica, Mother Jones and The Marshall Project.
LOOKING FORWARD: It's hard to say how Powell Jobs’s giving may evolve in the future, since she tends to be so quiet about her philanthropic efforts. But with significant resources at her disposal, it’s a good bet we’ll see a continuing expansion of both grantmaking and impact investments.