For most of her 20-year marriage to Steve Jobs, Laurene Powell Jobs was content to be a behind-the-scenes philanthropist.
But a desire to change US immigration laws is bringing her into the media spotlight - albeit in a carefully managed way.
Ms. Powell Jobs has a net worth of about $11.5 billion, according to Bloomberg. Her husband, the Apple co-founder, wasn't a big philanthropist. And before his death, he did not join the "Giving Pledge," the organization started by Warren E. Buffett and Bill Gates to encourage the world's wealthiest to donate at least half their wealth to charity. The site lists 114 people who have taken the pledge. Powell Jobs has not signed either.
But she has been a quiet donor of her time and money to many causes, especially to education.
In 1997, she started College Track, a non-profit organization that helps low-income students get into college, and graduate from college. The after-school program reaches kids starting the summer before high school and works with them throughout college. The program includes tutoring, extra-curricular activities and leadership classes. According to the website, 90 percent of the nearly 1,200 children who have participated in College Track programs have graduated from high school.
It was through her work at College Track that Powell Jobs got on the track to immigration reform. Some of the students in California in the program came into the US at a young age illegally. Now, as high school graduates, they are ineligible for state or federal college assistance. And that has led Powell Jobs to take a more public and active stance on the immigration.
“This continues to be a purgatory that they find themselves in,” Powell Jobs told The New York TImes recently. “It is one of these issues that seems discordant with what our country stands for.”
When the DREAM Act – which would have offered a path to citizenship for children living in the US illegally – failed to pass Congress, Powell Jobs began to flex her political and economic muscle. Through her Emerson Collective (which invests in education start-ups and gives education grants), she commissioned a film by Academy Award-winning filmmaker (Waiting for 'Superman,' An Inconvenient Truth) Davis Guggenheim. She's shown the 30-minute film ("The Dream is Now") to key members of Congress and launched a web site where it can be viewed.
Powell Jobs recently gave an interview to The Wall Street Journal, on the condition that the only topic she would discuss was immigration.
"Her profile is rising only of necessity and passion to change the system," said Ron Conway, a start-up investor who is a friend. "I don't think she necessarily wants to be in Washington all the time. I think it is based on the necessity of the issue." Conway told The Wall Street Journal that he saw her as "a catalyst, not a lobbyist."