Young Internet entrepreneurs embrace philanthropy
Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter's Biz Stone, Craigslist's Craig Newmark, and many others have turned their entrepreneurial skills to solving the world's social problems.
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The traits that make these entrepreneurs successful in business color how they approach philanthropy, says Leigh Stilwell, who works with Internet entrepreneurs regularly as senior vice president for donor experience and engagement at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, in Mountain View, Calif.Skip to next paragraph
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“They are really good at the skill of association, drawing themes and finding solutions and connecting ideas across areas and problems that seem unrelated,” Ms. Stillwell says.
That may be why many of these donors say they want to support charitable efforts that solve problems on a large scale.
Reid Hoffman, a venture capitalist and co-founder of the professional social network LinkedIn, says he considers the same question whether he’s approaching a business or a charity: How can a fixed amount of money reach the most people?
Mr. Hoffman says he donates to and serves on the boards of organizations like the microlender Kiva, the entrepreneurship charity Endeavor Global, and the volunteerism group Do-Something.org, because he believes they help change society by creating self-sufficiency, businesses, and sweeping changes.
“It’s an investment in order to achieve a result,” Mr. Hoffman says.
Mr. Hoffman’s board positions – all at relatively young organizations – highlight another trend among Internet entrepreneurs. They often want to be on the cutting edge, says Ellen Miller, executive director of the Sunlight Foundation, a Washington group that promotes open government.
“They aren’t afraid of new ideas and new ways of thinking of old problems,” says Ms. Miller, whose charity received $50,000 from Mr. Hoffman in 2010.
Naveen Jain, founder of the online background check site Intelius and other companies, is among the donors seeking new solutions. He created a $1 million prize for anyone who creates a low-cost tablet computer that children and adults can use to diagnose and treat common illnesses in places without easy access to a doctor.
Entrepreneurs “want to engage in solving a problem,” Mr. Jain says. “What’s an entrepreneur? It’s somebody who sees a problem, thinks of a solution, and goes and executes on that solution.”
Craig Newmark, who started Craigslist as a hobby in 1995, has recently given to Internet connectivity projects in Kenya, Haiti, and veterans centers in San Francisco. He pledged $100,000 to a similar project for vocational schools in the West Bank.