Over the holidays, superstar tennis athlete Serena Williams announced her engagement on Reddit to 33-year-old tech entrepreneur Alexis Ohanian. Some noted that this was an unusual medium for such an announcement, until more news broke about Williams' low-profile relationship and partner. Ohanian is actually one half of the co-founding duo of Reddit, and has since been involved in endeavors like Hipmunk and Initialized Capital.
Through the years, Williams has amassed a great deal of wealth, with Forbes pegging her net worth at $150 million. It's less clear how much Ohanian is worth, but here's a bit more about him: His grandparents were Armenian genocide survivors who came to the United States. Alexis Ohanian himself was born in Brooklyn, but grew up in Maryland. He attended the University of Virginia, graduating in 2005, and soon after, co-founded Reddit.
In a past post, we dug into Serena Williams' nascent giving, philanthropy that often tracks with deeply personal experiences. The tennis superstar grew up in Compton, and through her Serena Williams Fund, has addressed persistent problems like gun violence, educational inequity, and poverty that have impacted her family.
But what of Ohanian's philanthropy? And moreover, now that the couple are engaged, what can we expect from this potential new philanthropic power couple with a massive fortune on tap?
Well, Ohanian's growing charity work takes the form of what we sometimes see with younger tech donors. Rather than establish a formal family foundation, Ohanian has sometimes served as an intermediary and/or advocate for causes. He also sits on several key boards.
A few years ago, Ohanian partnered with online advocacy group Fight for the Future, which played a role in the strike against web censorship bills SOPA and PIPA. The organization, with Ohanian aboard, created a so-called "Internet Defense League," an internet "bat signal" of sorts.
The Caped Crusader, eh?
As Ohanian explains to Forbes, "People who wish to be tapped can see, oh look, the bat signal is up. Time to do something. Whatever website you own, this is a way for you to be notified if something comes up and take some basic actions... If we aggregate everyone that’s doing it, the numbers start exploding."
At one point, Ohanian was even set on testifying before Congress against SOPA, and fielded feedback from Reddit users, another not uncommon move by tech winners who move into the public arena.
Additionally, Ohanian is a co-founder and serves as treasurer of the board of the Institute on Higher Awesome Studies (IHAS), which "seeks to increase awesomeness in the world by experimenting with new, community driven ways to incubate, fund, and promote awesome individuals and their projects." IHAS is the parent organization of the Awesome Foundation, which has autonomous chapters in the U.S. and globally that distribute $1,000 microgrants to support worthy projects.
One recent project out of San Jose, California, is called San Jose Rocks, "a tactical community street art project" created by Erin Salazar. Thus far, around $2.4 million has been granted to more than 2400 projects. The foundation has chapters in places like Ann Arbor, Baltimore, Los Angeles, Ottawa, Sydney, and Paris.
Ohanian also sits on the national advisory board of Donorschoose.org, an online charity that "makes it easy for anyone to help a classroom in need." He was also a Kiva Fellow in Armenia in 2010—no doubt personal stakes for Ohanian.
Overall, just as we said of Serena Williams, Ohanian's philanthropy often tracks with his personal experiences in tech and beyond. It's worth noting that Williams' giving has also involved work in areas of social justice, as well as globally, including girls' education in Africa. With Ohanian's ties to Armenia, too, more global work may be in store for this couple down the line. In any case, fundraisers should watch this wealthy couple carefully in the coming years.
Related: Alexis Ohanian