Laurene Powell Jobs: Philanthropy and Activism Under the Radar

When Steve Jobs passed away a few years ago, people discussed his legacy and how he had changed the way we interact with technology. Many people, though, lamented Jobs’ seeming lack of interest in giving back to society in more philanthropic ways. At the time, the work of Jobs’ widow went widely overlooked. However, Laurene Powell Jobs had been working consistently on several projects related to reform and activism and continues to do so. A competent professional in her own right, Laurene Powell Jobs’ causes have attracted more attention in recent years.

Laurene Powell Jobs began her adult life by completing a BA at the University of Pennsylvania and a BS in economics at Wharton. After receiving an MBA from Stanford and marrying Steve Jobs, she already demonstrated her dedication to education reform through her involvement on the board of Achieva, which used online solutions to aid students with standardized tests. She also helped start a company called Terravera, which offered natural foods in stores throughout California.

Even during the early years of Apple, though, Powell Jobs had already begun to diversify her activities. The way that she set up her ventures, though, contrast the way other wealthy people have approached charitable work. Rather than setting up tax-exempt charities, Powell Jobs has preferred to run her organizations as limited liability companies.

Powell Jobs has told reporters that this provides the organization more flexibility regarding its activities. In her opinion, the tax benefits of running a foundation simply don’t make up for the advantages an LLC has when deciding on how to support a given cause. The fact that an LLC doesn’t have to report where it donates its money might partially explain why Powell Jobs’ activities have not drawn as much media attention compared to those of other famous wealthy individuals.

One of Powell Jobs’ most enduring projects began in 1997, when she started College Track. This program aims to support underprivileged students trying to get into college. Since this East Palo Alto project began, it has seen a high graduation rate among participants.

It was this project that led Powell Jobs to become more involved in immigration issues. Most notably, she has promoted the Dream Act, which would help create a path to citizenship for undocumented people who have finished high school or served in the military. She even had a hand in putting out the movie entitled The Dream Is Now, which tracks the lives of young, undocumented students.

Powell Jobs considers the current state of immigration policy detrimental on two levels. First, the individuals involved suffer from their lack of official status. Also, she says, the country as a whole is basically wasting educated individuals who could make valuable contributions to the broader society.

One of Powell Jobs’ most famous endeavors, the Emerson Collective, promotes entrepreneurship as a way to achieve social change. Besides this, though, she is involved in a smattering of other causes, including the funding of political candidates and working with anti-gun violence groups like Americans for Responsible Solutions. She also advises Udacity, which promotes affordable education, and has served on the boards of the NewSchools Venture Fund, Conservation International and Stanford University.

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