Sean Parker, the tech billionaire, best known for his leading roles at Napster and Facebook has donated more than $600 million to the Sean N. Parker Foundation to date. But up to now he’s been tight-lipped with the press about those contributions.
Parker formally announced the existence of his charitable operation today, but he’s been an active donor for the last ten years, according to a spokesperson from his foundation.
The Chronicles of Philanthropy mentioned Parker’s behind-the-scenes donations and voted him the 5th most charitable giver on the Philanthropy 50 list earlier this year, putting his total donations at $550 million last year.
That lands Parker in a league with only a handful of other tech entrepreneurs who gave more than $500 million in 2014, including WhatsApp’s Jan Koum, who donated $556 million to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, and GoPro founder Nick Woodman and his wife Jill, who also gave $500 million to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.
You have this huge, unprecedented number of very young billionaires who are trying to figure out what sort of a role they’re going to play more broadly in society. Sean Parker
So why not just come out and talk about it? And why the long wait? It’s mostly been an unofficial and evolving process, Parker told me over the phone from his Beverly Hills home.
“There was no real team and organization in place until now. It was just me,” Parker said. “But now we’ve fulfilled the pledge and we’ve established the foundation.”
Parker plans to invest that more than half a billion dollars in areas that he is confident already have solutions in place, but also areas in which Parker is highly passionate. This includes a focus on civic engagement, global public health initiatives, and biotech.
Parker, who suffers from severe allergies, already spent $24 million in December to establish the Sean N. Parker Center for Allergy Research and $4.5 million last week to support the Global Health Group’s Malaria Elimination Initiative as part of his health focus.
Parker is also highly interested in political change and civic engagement platforms in which that can happen. The guy who brought us the original music download service Napster is also the co-founder of several politically-charged startups like Causes, Votizen and the tech-based lobbying group FWD.us. He has used his foundation to invest in Code for America and told me he plans to add more to that organization in the next year. Note also that Brigade, the political platform Parker recently invested seems like a close take on Code for America’s Brigades grassroots network for civic change.
Parker not only has donated a significant amount of money towards charitable goals but also aims to apply a different philosophical model to tackling the problems in the three main areas his foundation is focused on.
“There’s several things that are different about the way we’re approaching it,” Parker says of his Foundation. Part of that includes starting young and adopting the tech model of disrupting large, systemic institutions.
“You’ve got to get three things right. You’ve got to have the right idea, you have to have the right team, and the timing has to be right,” Parker said.
Parker started thinking about this different approach while working on civic change startups like Causes. It is also a mindset that Parker believes will appeal to young, affluent tech founders.
“You have this huge, unprecedented number of very young billionaires who are trying to figure out what sort of a role they’re going to play more broadly in society,” Parker said.
The Parker Foundation plans to apply a “go big or go home” approach to identifying, funding and implementing programs that solve social, economic and environmental challenges within our lifetime.
“We will pursue complete solutions to the problems that we are solving by acting as a bridge between the need for philanthropic investment, public policy expertise, science and technology, and all other capabilities to achieve our goals,” said Parker.