Paul Allen

NET WORTH: $18.6 billion

SOURCE OF WEALTH:  Microsoft, commercial real estate

FUNDING AREAS: Brain research, health, education, arts & culture, science and technology, artificial intelligence, transportation, wildlife

OVERVIEW: Though Allen is uncharacteristically quiet about it, he is a strong philanthropist, appearing on the Chronicle of Philanthropy's "Philanthropy Top 50" nearly every year, and was named the most charitable living American in 2011. Through the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, he has donated tens of millions annually since 1990, providing a total of more than $494 million in funding to a variety of groups, running the gamut from science and technology to medial research to arts and community-building programs. About three-quarters of his gifts are awarded to nonprofits in the Pacific Northwest. The largest grants typically go to universities and research institutes, but the foundation also makes a significant number of smaller grants.

BACKGROUND: Allen is best known as the boyhood friend of Bill Gates. The two took an early interest in computers, and eventually started working on software applications. Allen briefly attended Washington State before dropping out to take a programming job in Boston, where Gates was at Harvard. A year later, Allen convinced Gates to drop out, and the two formed Microsoft. After being diagnosed, and successfully treated for Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1982, he began to distance himself from the company, remaining on the board of directors, but not working there full time. He resigned his position on the board of Microsoft in 2000, and now focuses on his investments through Vulcan, Inc. Some of his investments include ownership of the NFL's Seattle Seahawks, the NBA's Portland Trailblazers, part ownership of MLS’s Seattle Sounders, and Vulcan Entertainment, which has made a number of cause-related films. He has also written a bestselling memoir.

PHILOSOPHY: As a close friend of Gates, its no surprise that Allen was one of the initial signatories of the Giving Pledge, committing to give away at least half his wealth to charitable causes. While many signatories however have made robust pledge statements that detail their philosophy and how they intend to give away their money, Allen’s statement does not offer much insight, other than to say that his philanthropy focuses on the Pacific Northwest, and that the majority of his estate will be left to fund nonprofit scientific research, and to continue the work of his foundation.


HEALTH: Among Allen’s largest and most worthwhile philanthropic endeavors is the Allen Institute for Brain Science, which is actively developing a brain atlas for researchers to study the workings of the brain in health and in disease. Allen has contributed more than $500 million to establish and fund the Institute. He has also offered support to a number of Seattle area hospitals and research facilities, including the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, the Seattle Biomedical Research Institute, and the Swedish Medical Center. In response to the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa, Allen launched the Attack Ebola Campaign, pledging at least $100 million to the cause.

EDUCATION: Like most of his other work, Allen’s educational initiatives focus on the Pacific Northwest. He has donated $14 million to Washington University for computer lab, but perhaps more interesting was the $26 million gift to Washington State’s School for Global Animal Health that was made in 2010, and may signal a coming larger commitment to conservation and the environment. Through his foundation, he also supports public libraries, and programs for high school students in Washington and Oregon, particularly those that focus on real-world learning and community engagement. He also supports the Seattle Teacher Residency whose goal is to improve teacher's recruitement and retention in public schools. On a broader scale, he has created a free online professional development toolkit for teachers and leadership teams called Success at the Core, and his production company has recently co-produced a film called Girl Rising, which documented the struggles of girls across the world in their quest to receive an education. One of his priority initiative is called "Cultivating Youth" which consists of teaching responsibility, teamwork and leadership throught the operation of sustainable farm to disadvantaged youth in Washington.

ARTS & CULTURE: Allen has donated $240 million to found the Experience Music Project/Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame (now simply referred to as EMP), a Seattle museum that pays tribute to Allen's rock idol Jimi Hendrix, and other native Seattle bands such as Nirvana, as well as icons of science fiction and pop culture, which is an odd combination to say the least. The Paul G. Allen Foundation has given over $11 million to the Orgeon Shakespeare Festival. In addition, Allen is a strong supporter of Native communities giving a total of $10 million over 15 years.

SPACE EXPLORATION: Allen is fascinated with the idea of finding intelligent life outside of earth, and has donated at least $25 million to the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute, where an array of telescopes is named after him. He also funded the entire $25 million SpaceShipOne project, which became the first non-government spacecraft to reach space successfully and went on to win the $10 million Ansari X Prize in 2004. In this case though, the companies responsible for the development are for-profit, and Paul Allen is owns both a stake in the company, so that should really be considered an investment. 

COMMUNITY: Allen has supported a wide range of organizations in the Pacific Northwest, and the greater Seattle area in particular. Some of the organizations supported in include the YWCA, Boys and Girls Clubs and Big Brothers and Big Sisters.

THE ENVIRONMENT: Allen's foundation has pledged $8 million to Elephants Without Borders, while also donating $1 million to the Jane Goodall Institute for Great Ape conservation. Similarly, in 2013 Allen held the first Paul G. Allen Ocean Challenge, searching for different approaches to curbing ocean acidification that destroys coral reefs. In recent years, Allen donated $10 million towards the Smart City Challenge, an initiative by the Department of Transportation with the stated goal of making urban areas greener and more efficient. A total of $50 million in prize money will be awarded.

LOOKING FORWARD: Allen recently launched the Paul Allen Instute for Artificial Intelligence with the goal to become a major hub of AI knowledge and research.