The Brin Wojcicki Foundation is helmed by Google cofounder Sergey Brin and his wife Anne Wojcicki. The two are now separated, but so far there's no indication that their foundation will be collateral damage of that process (as has happened when other billionaire's marriages have unraveled).
Brin and Wojcicki helped found the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences and Wojcicki cofounded 23andMe, a company that provides rapid genetic testing through a saliva-based personal genome test kit sold on the 23andMe website. Brin and Wojcicki founded their foundation in 2004, and its quietly grown to a substantial size, reporting around $1 billion in assets at the end of 2013. That was before before Brin put in another $382.5 million last year.
The Brin Wojcicki Foundation gave away at least $25.4 million in 2013, and that number was probably higher in 2014, and is sure to keep climbing. Given the money waiting in the wings here (Brin is worth $28 billion), and the creative track record of both he and Wojcicki, we're betting this will be one of the more interesting foundations to watch as it gets up to scale in coming years. In fact, it's pretty interesting already.
Already, the foundation is funding at the local, national, and global level. But exact grantmaking details remain sketchy since the foundation doesn't have a website or any public infrastructure. As far as we can tell, it also has no professional staff (or any way for grantseekers to get in touch.)
Based on what we know, here's a quick rundown of where money has been going so far.
Ashoka Has Done Very Well
The foundation has long supported Ashoka at a high level. The most recent grant we know of was a $3 million pledge in late 2013, but we're betting there's been more money going to Ashoka since than. That grant went to further the work of Ashoka's Changemaker Schools program, which partners with the organization Roots of Empathy to work with elementary school teachers to cultivate empathy in students and teach them the skills of effective change making. "Most important about what Ashoka is doing is that they make people believe that change is possible. That belief can go viral," said Anne Wojcicki, in a statement about their decision to support the program.
But Much Bigger Money Has Gone for Parkinson's Research
In 1999, Brin's mother was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease. As well, Brin participated in a program run with 23AndMe and discovered that he had a mutation on a gene called LRRK2, a defect that would substantially increase his risk of developing Parkinson's disease. These intensely personal elements have fueled the foundation's interest in this area. It has put up over $160 million for Parkinson’s research in just the past four years, and much of that, including $53 million for a matching gift, went to the Michael J. Fox Foundation. Money has gone to the Parkinson’s Institute in Sunnyvale, California. More than $3 million went to the institute in 2013. Other health funding includes around $2.5 million that recently went to the San Francisco General Hospital Foundation. More modest sums have gone to Lucia Health Foundation.
Reducing Poverty in the Bay Area is a Priority
The Brin Wojcicki Foundation has provided significant support to the Tipping Point Community, which is trying to reduce poverty in the Bay Area and has won lots of support from tech and finance leaders in the region. The foundation has made several large gifts to the group. For example, for the May 2014 gala, the foundation pledged $1 million to match all gifts under $25,000 to the groups.
But Tipping Point is not the only Bay Area anti-poverty group that gets foundation money. Smaller sums of around $100,000 or less have gone to outfits such as Meals on Wheels San Francisco, Second Harvest Food Bank, the Innvision Shelter Network, and my New Red Shoes, an interesting nonprofit which provides shoes and clothing for local children living in poverty.
Money Goes to More Funky Stuff, Too
Giving money to a big name brand outfit like Ashoka, bankrolling medical research, and supporting local charities are hardly the elements of groundbreaking philanthropy. But we're guessing things will get more interesting down the line, and some money has already gone to support organizations that tackle problems in innovative ways.
Most notably, money has flowed from the foundation to Citizen Schools, an "expanded learning time" outfit, the Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit organization that operates Wikipedia, as well as places like BUILD, "whose mission is to use entrepreneurship to excite and propel disengaged, low-income students through high school to college success."
Of course, also, the Brin and Wojcicki have been key funders behind the Breakthrough Prize.