June 12, 2010; Source: Mercury News | Last week, the Nonprofit Quarterly referenced the five mega-philanthropists who pledged $45 million toward the Obama Administration’s Social Innovation Fund. One was Jeff Skoll of the Skoll Foundation, who became an overnight millionaire, then billionaire due to this good fortune of being hired as the first employee of the internet auction site that became eBay.
Only fifteen years after getting his MBA at the school, he is scheduled to be, according to the Merc, the first-ever commencement speaker for the Stanford Graduate School of Business. What might he say about charity and philanthropy to these new business grads? One suspects he’ll talk about endowing his eponymous foundation with $1 billion to support social entrepreneurs. Talking to the Merc, Skoll suggested that the bad economy is “almost a blessing in disguise,” because some Stanford business grads still looking for work might choose “getting aligned with a nonprofit” in the absence of getting “high-paying investment bank or consulting jobs.”
He believes that grads should look for the impact and change they ultimately want to make in the world, and work back from that objective to figure out where they want to take their careers. For Skoll, it was a desire to be a writer, influenced by the writings of Orwell, Huxley, and Rand “who painted a picture of what the future would look like.” Though he didn’t become a writer he created Participant Media, which has produced well known films such as “The Cove,” “An Inconvenient Truth,” “The Informant,” “The Soloist,” and “Good Night, and Good Luck.”
Participant Media is a for-profit, because according to Skoll, “it’s more difficult to set up a nonprofit in the entertainment world,” but a for-profit with a “truly” social mission, he says, achieves a nonprofit’s social goals. In the view of Skoll and the other philanthropists supporting the Social Innovation Fund, the presence of profit or the profit motivation does not undo the social mission of social entrepreneurs.—Rick Cohen