NET WORTH: $2.5 billion
SOURCE OF WEALTH: PayPal, Facebook
FUNDING AREAS: Science and Technology, Freedom and Humanitarian Efforts, LGBT Rights, Social Sciences
OVERVIEW: Peter Thiel does his grantmaking through the Thiel Foundation, which seeks to defend and promote political, personal, and economic freedom by supporting innovative research and technology, championing organizations and individuals that expose human rights violations and authoritarianism, and encouraging the exploration of new ideas and spaces where people can be less reliant on government. Thiel developed a fellowship program that encourages young people to pursue similarly bold ideas.
BACKGROUND: Born in Germany, Peter Thiel attended Stanford for undergrad and law school, and served as an appeals court clerk and a derivative trader for Credit Suisse before founding Thiel Capital Management and co-founding PayPal. PayPal eventually went public and was later sold to eBay, making Thiel's shares worth roughly $55 million. Thiel used part of this fortune to found Clarium Capital, a global macro hedge fund. In 2004, he became Facebook's first outside investor.
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY: Thiel supports cutting-edge science and technology. He has made major contributions to organizations that work on artificial intelligence and anti-aging research. Thiel Foundation launched Breakout Labs, an initiative designed to reshape the way early-stage science is funded by bridging the gap between initial funding from venture capital firms and small labs and government or other major funding, which generally is much more conservative in nature. Breakout Labs uses an innovative revolving funding model in which successful projects fund the next generation of scientific exploration. Thiel was instrumental in developing a conference that highlights organizations and individuals doing groundbreaking work in these areas. In 2015, Thiel joined Elon Musk and Reid Hoffman in funding the $1 billion OpenAI, a center dedicated to researching how artificial intelligence can help mankind.
HUMANITARIAN EFFORTS: Thiel seeks to promote the ideal of freedom around the world, and he supports organizations that defend freedom of speech and access to information, expose human rights abuses, and explore highly innovative models for society. He is a major supporter of the Human Rights Foundation and the Committee to Protect Journalists, was instrumental in creating the Oslo Freedom Forum, and has created a program through his foundation that funds research into the behavioral and biological origins of violence. His vision of freedom and his desire to push boundaries and open new conversations have also led him to support the Seasteading Institute, which works to develop and create autonomous floating communities in international waters.
LGBT RIGHTS: Thiel is openly gay and has personally supported organizations that champion LGBT issues in the past. Although some have criticized him for simultaneously supporting organizations and political candidates with anti-gay agendas, he has been an outspoken supporter of GOProud, a donor to the American Foundation for Equal Rights, and a fundraiser for the campaign that successfully argued the case that overturned California's Prop 8 in the Supreme Court.
SOCIAL SCIENCES: A third Thiel Foundation program is called Imitatio, which "supports research, education and publications building on René Girard's mimetic theory," the basic premise of which is that imitation is the fundamental mechanism of human behavior.
LOOKING FORWARD: Thiel is inclined toward bold proposals and has supported new and innovative ideas at an earlier stage than many of his fellow philanthropists. His recent backing of OpenAI, shows a growing interest in artificial general intelligence.