NET WORTH: $2.5 billion
SOURCE OF WEALTH: Cofounder of Vista Equity Partners
FUNDING AREAS: Education, Entrepreneurship, Human Rights, Environment, Black Causes
OVERVIEW: Robert F. Smith recently gave $50 million to his alma mater, Cornell. The gift focuses on diversification in STEM fields, and the Robert Frederick Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Cornell was renamed in his honor. Smith is also president of the newly minted Fund II Foundation, which lists several interests, including entrepreneurship, the environment, music education, human rights, and preserving the African-American experience. Smith recently signed the Giving Pledge.
BACKGROUND: The son of Ph.D.s, Smith convinced Bell Labs to give him an internship when he was still at his Denver, Colorado, high school. Smith subsequently earned a chemical engineering degree from Cornell and an MBA from Columbia. He worked in M&A at Goldman Sachs before cofounding Vista Equity Partners, a private equity fund that manages equity capital commitments of over $14 billion and oversees a portfolio of over 30 software companies.
EDUCATION & ENTREPRENEURSHIP: Smith and his Fund II Foundation recently gave $50 million to establish an endowment for the Cornell University School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. The bulk of the funds are "dedicated to scholarship and fellowship support for groups traditionally underrepresented in engineering and technology — particularly African-American and female students." The money also creates a fund for diversity initiatives in engineering and establishes the Robert Frederick Smith Tech Scholars Program.
Another Fund II focus area is music education; Smith sits on the board of Carnegie Hall.
Fund II has also begun a partnership with The Opportunity Network (OppNet), which "levels the playing field for low-income high school and college students by providing access to college and career success." As well, the foundation recently funded the Together We Rise Family Fellowship Program, which "supports former foster youth in their efforts to gain a university, community college or trade school education."
HUMAN RIGHTS: Fund II Foundation is focused on human rights injustices both at home and abroad. This emerging grantmaking category appears to run the gamut, from local human services work to humanitarian efforts around the world. The foundation has bankrolled Unlikely Heroes (UH), which supports safe homes and restoration to child victims of sex slavery around the globe, and another outfit called Senior Support Services, which received a three-year grant from the foundation.
ENVIRONMENT & PRESERVATION: The foundation states that it is "dedicated to protecting the environment, increasing knowledge of nature, expanding access to parks, and connecting young people to beneficial outdoor activities." It's unclear if Fund II has disbursed grants in this area yet.
BLACK CAUSES: One of the foundation's focus areas is called "Cultural conservation: preserving the African-American Experience." It's worth noting that Smith is chairman of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, and also held a leadership role in the MLK Memorial Project in Washington, D.C. It remains to be seen what kind of work this grantmaking category involves, but Smith recently gave $20 million to support the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. He also once supported a youth empowerment program called Lincoln Hills Experience on a ranch and fly fishing preserve outside of Denver. As a youth, Smith vacationed with his family in Lincoln Hills, one of the few resorts where African-Americans could rent or buy vacation cabins; it was frequented by such notables as Duke Ellington and Zora Neale Hurston.
LOOKING FORWARD: Smith is only in his 50s and still very much engaged in business, but his philanthropy is ramping up and we'll have to keep apprised of Fund II's emerging work. The outfit has a small staff and is open to applications. Perhaps other large higher education gifts related to STEM and diversity are coming, too.