NET WORTH: Unknown
SOURCE OF WEALTH: Gateway
FUNDING AREAS: Violence Prevention, Environment, and Scientific Research
OVERVIEW: Waitt has donated more than $125 million toward violence prevention, the protection and restoration of our oceans, and scientific innovation and discovery. Much emphasis is put on awareness through the creation of films, educational materials, and other campaigns. Waitt's major focuses include affecting policy and developing technology to improve imaging and mapping for both biological and oceanic studies.
BACKGROUND: Ted Waitt started Gateway in 1985 out of his father's cattle ranch in Iowa with a $10,000 grant secured by his grandmother. A pioneer in the direct marketing of personal computers, Waitt eventually built Gateway into a multibillion-dollar company. Showing an early commitment to philanthropy, he established his foundation in 1993, several years before many of his contemporaries did so. The foundation was initially started to give back to the community where he grew up. As Gateway grew, however, it enabled Waitt to expand the scope of his philanthropy to tackle issues on a larger scale and embark on more ambitious projects.
PHILOSOPHY: Ted Waitt hasn't talked much publicly about the philosophy behind his philanthropy, but he seems to pick areas he is passionate about and starts by casting a wide net to see what works in those areas before narrowing his focus. In scientific research, this approach has meant focusing on technology that, while not aimed at any specific health problem, may serve as a foundation that better equips scientists to tackle a broad range of issues. In community-building efforts, Waitt's approach has led to a focus on violence prevention, and in conservation efforts, it has led to a focus on the world's oceans. Another point that is clear from the mission statements of Waitt's various charitable endeavors is that he believes it is key to raise awareness. He sees himself as attempting to help create tipping points that will lead to both policy changes and changes in personal behavior.
VIOLENCE PREVENTION: When Waitt's company became a household name in the early '90s, one of his first impulses was to give back to the community where he grew up. The result was the formation of the Waitt Foundation, whose initial mission was to promote positive changes in at-risk communities in and around Sioux City, Iowa. After determining that his foundation's work on domestic violence issues was having the greatest measurable impact, he decided to concentrate in that area. This decision eventually led to the creation of the Waitt Institute for Violence Prevention, which has extended its work in violence prevention well beyond the Sioux City region to partner with organizations such as the Ad Council, the Family Violence Prevention Fund on its Founding Fathers campaign, and Coaching Boys into Men. The Waitt Institute also helped fund the creation of two films that deal with domestic violence: the award-winning Bully, which was released in 2011 and has helped create a national debate around the issue, and Private Violence, which was released in 2014. The institute is committed to breaking the cycle of violence in our homes, schools, and communities at a local and national level.
ENVIRONMENT: After creating a separate institute to focus solely on violence prevention, Waitt shifted the main focus of his foundation to raising global awareness about declining marine resources and funding initiatives focused on scientific research, protection, policy change, and funding organizations like Pew, Oceana, and Conservation International. The foundation and the Waitt Institute work with policymakers and stakeholders to facilitate the creation of protected marine areas, improve the management of fisheries, and foster sustainable practices and policies. In addition, Waitt has funded major exploration initiatives to map seabeds and what the Waitt Institute describes as "arguably the most technologically advanced scientific expedition the Titanic ever organized." In 2009, he also launched the Earhart Expedition to find Amelia Earhart's plane. While these last two projects, both of which require considerable resources, may be considered by some a waste of philanthropic dollars that might be better spent elsewhere, they are the kinds of projects that can spark the imagination and serve as a catalyst to raise awareness and spur technological innovation.
SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH: Waitt is vice chair of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. He has contributed more than $20 million to the organization, most of which has gone to create the Waitt Advanced Biophotonics Center. The goal of the center is to develop next-generation imaging and visualization tools that will enable investigators from across many biological disciplines to take advantage of the latest imaging technology. The center's research stands to serve as a foundation for scientific advancement in many areas, including research into aging, cancer, neuroscience, metabolism, vision, infectious diseases, genetic disorders, and forensic science. The research may be applied to other areas of scientific inquiry as well.
LOOKING FORWARD: Waitt has a more than 20-year history of working on domestic violence issues. This effort initially focused on gender-related violence and more recently has incorporated bullying as well. While he has taken major steps to raise awareness for these issues more broadly in the past few years, most of the direct services his institute provides — which include mentoring and educational programs to address violence and bullying at home, in school, and in the workplace — have been limited to the Sioux City region.
When it comes to scientific research and ocean conservation, Waitt is really just getting started, so look for his future philanthropy to build on the results of the initiatives he currently supports. In ocean conservation, look for the support of more smaller-scale projects and awareness initiatives that seek to replicate the success he has had in violence prevention.