Wakerly: A Tech Winner Focuses on Social Causes and Education

helping immigrants is one focus of the WAkerly family foundation. photo: Diego G Diaz/shutterstock

helping immigrants is one focus of the WAkerly family foundation. photo: Diego G Diaz/shutterstock

Marquette and Stanford engineering graduate John Wakerly held such roles as VP of engineering for Cisco Systems and Alantec, now part of Ericsson. Wakerly has also written more than 50 engineering papers, authored nine textbooks and editions, and served on the engineering faculty at Stanford.

Like other tech winners, Wakerly is also philanthropic and in a recent conversation with him, he told me that a lot of success in tech comes down to luck. Those with both “talent and luck” need to give back, he believes, because there are equally intelligent people out there who haven’t been as lucky.

That's a theme we hear often from economic winners who've turned to philanthropy. Many are well aware that they got fabulously rich in part because of factors that include family background, being in the right place at the right time, and having things break their way. In turn, that often make these winners appreciate how luck can also run in the opposite direction, creating enormous hardship in people's lives. Giving back is one way to address the inherent unfairness of the world. 

To that end, with his late wife Kate, Wakerly established the Wakerly Family Foundation (WFF) in the 1990s. As founding president, Kate Wakerly directed the foundation’s early giving priorities. The Wakerlys both grew up in Chicago where Kate was long involved with Sisters of Notre Dame where she helped fund a school in Zimbabwe. WFF continues to support Sisters of Notre Dame, giving a grant earlier this year to support work in Nigeria near its capital city Abuja.

Initially, the Wakerlys' giving was laser-focused on the San Francisco Bay Area counties of San Mateo and Santa Clara, California. Soon the foundation shifted its focus to concentrate the majority of ongoing charitable giving to recipients outside of California. 

WFF focuses on the areas of social services, education, and economic development, including funding projects and programs that “support children in at-risk or economically disadvantaged households;” "assist immigrants to the U.S. in the areas of education, employment, and housing;” and “promote individual responsibility and economic freedom.”

Grantees have included Rosie 's Place in Boston Northern Illinois Food Bank, and Bear Necessities towards its pediatric cancer programs. It’s worth noting that Kate passed away from cancer.

Wakerly explains that WFF is looking to hit the $250,000 mark in annual grantmaking in the coming years. These days, Wakerly’s kids are also on the board of WFF, too, and influence some of WFF’s work. WFF does not consider unsolicited proposals from new organizations. For a complete overview of John Wakerly and family’s giving, read our tech profile linked below.

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