Amount donated: In excess of $1.5bn
Philanthropic causes: Everything from science, technology, education and the Arts to the preserving the oceans, fisheries, endangered species and the past
Region of philanthropic focus: Focused mainly in USA and Africa, but positive impact of philanthropy is global due to the causes embraced
Ranking: As a member of The Giving Pledge, Allen has signed up to giving at least half of his fortune to philanthropic causes. In February 2016, Allen assigned an assistant secretary-general of the UN, Tony Banbury, to be his chief philanthropy officer.
Net worth: $17.7 billion (Forbes 2016)
Source of wealth: Technology (co-founder of Microsoft); investments
American philanthropist Paul Gardner Allen has been awarded many times over the fruits of his breathtaking vision and his all-encompassing charitable-giving, which exceeds $1.8 billion with the figure ever-increasing.
Perhaps, the award that best encapsulates his holistic spirit is the Andrew Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy, presented in August 2015. It recognises his work “to save endangered species, fight Ebola, research the human brain, support the Arts, protect the oceans, and expand educational opportunities for girls.”
Born in Seattle, Washington, on 21st January, 1953, Allen made his fortune as a co-founder of Microsoft, the global software concern that in his words “changed the way people work, play and communicate.” A billionaire at the age of 30, Allen had dropped out of university then given up a job as a programmer to follow his dream. His fellow co-founder is Bill Gates, whom Allen had befriended at Lakeside High School, and later convinced to drop out of university to establish his brainchild.
In 1982, Allen was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, from which he recovered. With the revelation, however, came a shift in perspective. Allen began withdrawing from Microsoft and ‘living the dream’ – buying items such as luxury yachts, the most famous of which is Octopus. He owns an aerospace company; award-winning media company, Vulcan Productions; two professional sports teams (Seattle Seahawks and Portland Trail Blazers), with a share in a third (Seattle Sounders FC), and plays with a rock band, The Underthinkers.
Living large was not the only sea-shift. Allen began investing in fledgling businesses (as Microsoft had been seven years earlier). One cannot view this solely as a hard-nosed business decision – the wheels of philanthropy had been set in motion, albeit, on a subliminal level.
The acts of philanthropy would become more overt and additional business interests come to the fore – with customary prescience, Allen set up Vulcan Inc. in 1986 to oversee the management of both dominating forces.
Allen’s multi-billion investment portfolio (of which the net assets were estimated to be $17.7bn by Forbes in April 2016) include real estate holdings and a cable company, cited as the USA’s seventh largest in 1998.
In 1986, Allen and his sister, Jody, established The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation to “jumpstart meaningful change” in “the arts, financial empowerment, libraries, education and science and technology.” Together, over 1,500 non-profit organisations across the globe have received in excess of $494m from the Foundation.
The siblings’ father was an Associate Director of a University Library System and mother an Elementary School teacher. Allen found them inspirational: “They instilled in me great passion for learning, for ideas and the potential of what could be...”
The words ‘the potential of what could be’ are prevalent in considering Allen’s life – he has invested heavily (with his heart and pocket) in the world of science. In a bid to “accelerate the pace of discovery” in the realm of bio-science, earlier this year the entrepreneur launched The Paul G Allen Frontiers Group with a $100m commitment. For some, it has been stated, the research areas may be considered “out-of-the-box, at the very edges of knowledge.”
He has also founded and donated $300m to The Allen Institute of Brain Science (2003) to research the link between the brain and disease. A strident example of ‘giving’ at its very best, research data from the Institute is made publicly available online, for free.
Paradoxically, Octopus typifies Allen’s humanitarian spirit – the yacht regularly hosts star-studded parties at Cannes, yet is on stand-by for global mercy missions at sea. Octopus was the vessel used in 2015 to retrieve the bell of World War 11 ship HMS Hood from the Denmark Straight.
The enterprise manifests Allen’s devotion to preserving the past – he has founded several museums that include the , a showcase of military aircraft and armaments, and a Rock ‘n’ Roll museum, the Experience Music Project, dedicated to Jimi Hendrix.
Latterly, Allen has focused his financial might on Africa. In 2014, a $100m contribution to help fight the Ebola epidemic, made Allen its largest private donor. South Africa’s Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) bestowed an Honorary Doctorate (in Philosophy) on Allen the same year.
Allen’s work on the African continent can be viewed as a microcosm for his all-embracing philanthropy – improving the human lot and preserving the delicate equilibrium of our oceans, landscapes and habitats.
The point is reflected in his (NMMU) acceptance speech, made in absentia, to a young university audience – “… never before have people had so many opportunities to contribute to growth, innovation and philanthropy not just in Africa, but everywhere in the world. Each of you now has the chance and the obligation to help change the world for the better... to create a better future for preserving and respecting the past…All of us must rise to this challenge…”