Steve Jobs' philanthropy: Did he give anonymously or not at all?

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 12 2011 9:20 p.m. MDT

As an entrepreneur, Steve Jobs' contributions to technology were legendary. As a philanthropist, the billionaire's contributions to society have been called into question.

Few records exist of Jobs' charitable contributions, according to the International Business Times. The 43rd-richest person in the United States, Jobs, who died last week after a struggle with pancreatic cancer, accumulated a fortune of an estimated $8.3 billion.

Unlike peers in the technology business like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, Jobs did not sign Warren Buffet's Giving Pledge, which challenged the world's richest billionaires to give at least half their wealth to charity. In the 1980s, Jobs started up the Steven P. Jobs Foundation only to close it down a little over a year later. In recent years, friends told the New York Times Jobs felt he could do more good expanding Apple than giving money to charity.

"The lack of public philanthropy by Mr. Jobs — long whispered about, but rarely said aloud — raises some important questions about the way the public views business and business people at a time when some 'millionaires and billionaires' are criticized for not giving back enough while others like Mr. Jobs are lionized," Andrew Ross Sorkin wrote in the New York Times shortly after the Apple CEO stepped down in August.

Some have called Jobs out.

"It's high time the minimalist CEO became a magnanimous philanthropist," Change.org urged in 2010. "As the 43rd-richest person in the United States, Jobs is a prime target for Bill Gates and Warren Buffett's Giving Pledge."

Others gave him the benefit of the doubt.

"Of course, Jobs and his wife may be giving enormous sums of money to charity anonymously," wrote Leander Kahney of Wired.com. "For a person as private as Jobs, who shuns any publicity about his family life, this seems credible. If so, however, this would make Jobs virtually unique among moguls."

Jobs' apparent lack of giving is surprising considering the lack of emphasis he placed on money, Sorkin wrote.

"You know, my main reaction to this money thing is that it's humorous, all the attention to it, because it's hardly the most insightful or valuable thing that's happened to me," Jobs said in a 1985 interview with Playboy magazine.

Since the entrepreneur's death, focus has turned to his wife, Apple Inc. cofounder Laurene Powell Jobs. Jobs' 47-year-old widow declined to comment on how she intends to spend the fortune she will likely inherit, the Wall Street Journal reported. However, her involvement with a number of causes, including education reform and women's issues, suggests she is deeply committed to philanthropy.

"She is very much of the school of 'to whom much is given, much is expected,'" said Carlos Watson, who cofounded an educational reform organization called College Track with her in 1997. "She is focused on ways to expand opportunity."

Powell Jobs sits on the boards for NewSchools Venture Fund, Teach for America, Stand for Children, New America Foundation and Conservation International. The Jobs family donated millions to NewSchools Venture Fund, said chief executive Ted Mitchell, noting her work "is even more effective because she does this work quietly, constantly, with incredible integrity and great insight."

Powell Jobs also founded a nonprofit that helps low-income students prepare for college in 1997. The program, called College Track, has since helped more than 1,000 students get into four-year colleges. More recently, she founded Emerson Collective, a philanthropic organization that aims to help entrepreneurs effect international and domestic social reform."

EMAIL: estuart@desnews.com TWITTER: elizMstuart

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