Philanthropy in the Valley

“Making the world a better place.” Its echoes bounce all throughout the Valley and underscore most of the companies’ work. Google’s motto “Don’t be evil” (now it’s actually “do the right thing” but the point remains) rings of a vision of a better world. So does Nimble Storages “No jerks allowed” policy.

It’s funny to see the spoofs. Take HBO Silicon Valley’s Goolybib who, during an investor presentation, says “But seriously, you know, a few days ago, when we were sitting down with Barack Obama, I turned to these guys and said, ok, we’re making a lot of money. And yes, we’re disrupting digital media. But most importantly we’re making the world a better place. Through constructing elegant hierarchies for maximum code reuse and extensibility.

But tech philanthropy and a focus on initiatives to actually leave the world a better place, rather than just to say it, are a key tenant of many of the companies that populate the Valley and they extend long past the parodies you see on TV and in the media. They drive the Valley forward socially and give companies purposes that extend beyond the push for innovation.

Take, for instance, Apple and their focus on STEM education. Long before the announcement of the iPad, rumors swirled that Steve Jobs’ next innovation would be focused on education. With the iPad and accompanying apps like iTunes U, Apple made their first step into computing platforms that could made to aid education at an affordable price. Swift Playgrounds, a recently introduced app designed by Apple, aims to make learning to code fun and easy. But the impact wasn’t necessarily there for third world countries.

Yesterday, Apple announced a new initiative with the Malala Fund, including a pledge to help the charity more than double the amount of girls they’re able to give an education to, specifically in STEM education. The Malala Fund is the brainchild of Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, a passionate and outspoken advocate for women’s education worldwide who survived a Taliban assassination attempt. This is often the way tech philanthropy works: companies invest in communities important to them. Socially, these communities reap the benefits of working with large scale firms granting them access to new trainings & technology. Economically, by introducing women to education through Apple products, the company is able to expand their market and drive their revenue up. After getting their iPads and MacBooks into schools across America (show of hands, who went to private high school and had an iPad program available to them), new countries are the next frontier for Apple and what better way to do that then work with an organization with inclusive, noble intentions.


Photo courtesy of

Similar models dot the valley. Marc Benioff started his behemoth company Salesforce (SFDC, incidentally nicknamed SFDC for, and not SF, so the company is not confused with its headquarters in San Francisco, or SF) in 1999 and, at the same time, opened the Salesforce Foundation. It’s an integral part of what Salesforce does.

Benioff himself said “When it comes to philanthropy, I have one pitch, and it’s been the same since the founding of our company 13 years ago: the 1/1/1 model of integrated corporate philanthropy. The 1/1/1 model, like’s business model, operates on a “pay as you go” model. When we started, we took one percent of our equity, one percent of our profit in the form of product donations and one percent of all of our employees’ time and put it into a 501(c)(3) public charity.”


Photo courtesy of

This model is a winning platform for both nonprofits and SFDC. Nonprofits are able to leverage the preeminent customer relationship management platform (CRM software to use the jargon) and access the thousands of add-ons available to users. Homeless shelters can manage who has dropped by to get their services, healthcare managers can track who’s used their services and for which reasons, and education non-profits can log the kids who come through their door and track their reading proficiency progress. It shares great community benefits not possible otherwise because of the constrained resources nonprofits typically have. Plus, SFDC reaps the benefits too. They expand their user base, over 28,000 charities use their software, which means they have access to 28,000 different data points to analyze consumer behavior and track differences among different industries. They can also make larger sales to other companies who want to add on top of the SFDC platform, because of that extended user base. Philanthropy doesn’t need to be done without strategic advantages, and the companies in the Valley are particularly adept at addressing needs by creating two-way value chains.

Apple and SFDC aren’t the only ones doing big things to help communities. Examples of this pop up every day on and make for compelling reads for anyone worried about being sucked into a traditional “coporate culture.”


Photo courtesy of AFP Silicon Valley

Thanks for reading!

7 thoughts on “Philanthropy in the Valley

  1. Great post! It reminds me of Tim Cook’s MIT commencement speech, where he says “serve humanity” a total of seven times. I agree with you that tech philanthropy truly is impacting the world for the better. It’s great that they invest in these initiatives that tackle issues like education, especially because as such large companies, they have the capacity to do so. However, reading about the humanitarian efforts of these giant companies always makes me think about other things they might consider improving, such as labor practices and sweatshop conditions.


  2. It really is refreshing that these companies with so much influence and power are truly trying to make the world a better place. You often hear these tech companies declaring that they are going to change the world and instantly we think, “Well what innovation do they have planned next?” However, as you’ve shown, their goals go far beyond that. Thanks for sharing!


  3. Great job! This really emphasizes the points that Kipp made in his post on social responsibility: as much as shows like Silicon Valley may satirize the phrase, it seems that many companies are really now trying to “make the world a better place.” Even in the Travis Kalanick video that we’ll discuss this week, we see that Uber is willingly hurting its own profitability to increase carpooling. While that may change as more driverless cars come onto the road, it’s nice in general to see so many of these large corporations giving back.


  4. Great post, JB! I liked the two companies you used because they’re both so influential and set a great example as to how companies can use their service/product that they already have to help others. It’s also true that being philanthropic doesn’t have to be a one sided benefit. It was interesting how SFDC could benefit from the data they were receiving from helping others. I’m excited to check out TechCrunch and learn about other examples of philanthropy!


  5. Really liked this post, JB. When you hear these companies say their goal is making the world a better place, by first impression is skeptical. On one hand, they really do give back and help others, but I worry that its for the wrong reasons. Our society is very conscious of our impact on the world around us, and being conscious of that is good for business. I know tobacco companies were also some of the biggest donors to charity, but I think when you talk about how the culture is part of the business model you highlight the difference between tobacco and tech.


  6. Interesting post JB! I also retweeted that Apple is now funding girls’ education on my Twitter a week ago. What a great news, really. Like @clarezhou said, this also reminds me of Tim Cook’s speech at MIT commencement. Making the world a better place by giving back what they gained is so important not only for the global community as a whole, but also for the business itself in the long run. Wouldn’t customers feel more comfortable paying, knowing this company will use part of the money they pay to make the world a better place?


  7. Great topic choice! I love to see companies take on a bigger purpose than generating profit. As we saw with Salesforce, the “social” component of doing business can result in increased employee morale and even attract new customers. It’s interesting to observe how many of the most successful companies have made philanthropy core to their missions. One of my favorite examples of a socially conscious business is Starbucks. The company is committed to improving the communities it serves by promoting volunteer days for employees, ensuring ethical sourcing of coffee, and minimizing its environmental footprint. On our trip, I hope to hear more about how the companies we’re visiting practice corporate responsibility!


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