Vinod Khosla

NET WORTH: $1.72 billion

SOURCE OF WEALTH: Sun Microsystems, Khosla Ventures

FUNDING AREAS: Microlending to combat poverty, hunger and education. K-12 education.

OVERVIEW: Khosla's philanthropy reflects his venture capitalist roots and has led him to support groups that provide microloans to entrepreneurs in his childhood home. He also supports his wife Neeru's education nonprofit, CK-12 Foundation.

BACKGROUND: Khosla grew up in New Dehli, India, and was inspired to work in technology by a story he read about the founding of Intel. He received his bachelor's degree from IIT Dehli before coming to the U.S. for a masters at Carnegie Mellon in biomedical engineering, and an MBA at Stanford. He founded Sun Microsystems two years after receiving his business degree, though he eventually left to join the venture capital firm Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield, and Byers.

PHILOSOPHY: Khosla has already signed the Giving Pledge, in which he promises to give at least half his wealth to charitable causes, and he's hoping that India's nearly 100 billionaires will follow suit and step up their collective philanthropic game. Khosla's approach to philanthropy however is not traditional, but follows a trend that seems to be developing among many Silicon Valley givers, dubbed "philanthrocapitalism." In Khosla's case, there seems to be a greater emphasis on the "capitalism" half of the term, as he believes that people must understand that commercial entities are better able to lift people out of poverty than most non-profit charitable organizations are.

It's not that Khosla is completely against charitable organizations or giving; he just feels that approach is not as efficient or sustainable. He notes that as nonprofits grow, they often tend to drift away from their original mission and to be less efficient when they have to ask for increasing numbers of donations just to stay afloat. In a telephone interview with the New York Times, Khosla said, "There needs to be more experiments in building sustainable businesses going after the market for the poor. It has to be done in a sustainable way. There is not enough money to be given away in the world to make the poor well off."


MICROLENDING:  One of Khosla's most famous investments was in SKS Microfinance, specializing in microloans to poor women in India. During the company's initial public offering in 2011, Khosla increased his net worth by $117 million. But don't think he's making money on the backs of the poor--Khosla has promised to invest all of that money in other commercial ventures that aim to fight poverty in India. Keep in mind that Khosla isn't just giving the money away--he's investing the funds in areas that he believes can turn a profit, thus giving him a continued stream of capital to invest in commerical poverty-fighting ventures.

Unfortunately, as Khosla and other microlenders in India learned later, such an approach can be a double-edged sword, since the success of microlending enterprises depends greatly on the repayment of loans by their recipients. As the Indian microloan industry has grown, the percentage of loan recipients who never pay back the loans also has increased, to the point that Indian banks have begun to worry. In the beginning, when only small nonprofits were making the loans, the payback rate was high, possibly because recipients see nonprofits as charities out to help them. But as more large foundations and for-profit banks have gotten involved, everyone has seen the return plummet. Perhaps ironically, many believe the SKS IPO created a lot of anger, which led loan recipients to decide to stop paying on their loans. Although one might think that Khosla would feel a bit bruised and battered after such an experience, he continues to fund such efforts because he feels they work.

In December 2012, he and Zillow cofounder Rich Barton bankrolled Vittana, a nonprofit that looks to attack childhood poverty through education microloans. The exact amount of the microloans isn't known, but to date, Vittana claims to have assisted more than 8,000 young people with $1.6 million in loans. That amount is expected to swell to an estimated $5.25 million for 2013, with an ultimate goal of about $70 million in annual loan volume. 

Khosla has also joined with several other tech titans to bankroll the Unitus Seed Fund. This organization will fund Unitus Labs, which is designed to help Indian entrepreneurs get new commercial ventures off the ground. The fund will focus its microloans on companies looking to develop consumer-oriented services that help some of the 800 million low-income people in India.

EDUCATION: Khosla and his wife Neeru founded the Amar Foundation, which supports the CK-12 Foundation, an education nonprofit cofounded by Neeru. CK-12 provides free customizable K-12 open educational resources. The foundation's tools are used by at least 38,000 schools in the United States alone. CK-12 runs five websites, most of which are focused on STEM learning.

MISCELLANEOUS: Khosla's impact investing has led him to be involved with green initiatives such as the newly formed Breathrough Energy Coalition, as well as the biofuel company KiOR. It was also reported near the end of 2015, that Twine Health had recieved funds from Khosla for its work in chronic condition health coaching.