New Dropbox Foundation Concentrates on Human Rights
Tech philanthropy has become increasingly important in the last couple decades with much of the large-scale giving coming from Silicon Valley firms such as Google and Facebook. For all the giving that has already occurred, there are many more tech leaders who are still waiting for the right time to give. One of the best examples is Jeff Bezos, who famously asked for help with his philanthropy on Twitter. Philanthropy industry professionals have debated a great deal about how giving by tech giants is different from those who made money in other realms without any clear conclusion. However, we can all agree that it’s likely that we will see much more giving from wealthy tech companies in the years to come.
Dropbox Cofounders Join Forces to Create New Foundation
The newest tech giants to venture into the world of philanthropy are Arash Ferdowsi and Drew Houston, the leaders behind Dropbox. The two Dropbox cofounders recently launched the Dropbox Foundation, which has an initial endowment of $20 million. The foundation has created a lot of excitement because it differs in critical ways from many of the other philanthropic organizations around the nation, including those that have arisen out of tech companies.
One distinguishing features of this new foundation is its focus on global human rights, which is an area that has largely been overlooked by other tech-driven philanthropists. As the founders explained, they want to do more for organizations that are pushing for basic freedoms and equal opportunity in parts of the world, where the fundamental necessities of life are not always easily acquired. What makes Houston and Ferdowsi similar to other donors emerging from Silicon Valley is their focus on disruption and breaking from what institutional grantmakers have done for years: seeing philanthropy as an outgrowth of business rather than as an entirely different category.
Deploying Human Resources to Create Change
To that end, the Dropbox Foundation will deploy employee volunteers to partner organizations. These employees will have developed skillsets that match the unique needs of that particular organization. These skills include everything from data security to financial modeling. In addition, the foundation will make use of the skills of its non-tech employees with recruitment and other forms of assistance. This sort of outreach is not unique in tech-driven philanthropy. Marc Benioff, the founder of Salesforce, pioneered a 1+1+1 model that encourages companies to use cash, people, and products to support its philanthropic partners. This model has shaped a great deal of giving in Silicon Valley and other tech hubs.
Unrestricted Grants from the Dropbox Foundation
What distinguishes the Dropbox Foundation from many other Silicon Valley philanthropic initiatives is its decision to offer unrestricted grants to its partners. The vast majority of grants made in today’s world come with specific conditions as to how the funds are allocated at the organization. Dropbox will instead partner with organizations that it trusts to use the money in responsible ways. This freedom allows organizations to respond quickly to changing needs and ensures that funds are always allocated in a logical way.
Foundation critics have long pointed out that restricted funds can be counterproductive and cause more work for nonprofits while hindering their growth. Perhaps it is not surprising that executives from the tech industry would embrace this view since it is much like receiving venture capital from an investor. Venture capitalists would not be able to say that their support can be used only for engineering and not for human resources. These investors understand that they must support the entire enterprise, and tech company leaders would not surprisingly take the same approach with philanthropic partners.
The Four Initial Partners of the Dropbox Foundation
Alongside the announcement of the new foundation, Ferdowsi and Houston identified their first four partners for 2018. Reflecting the foundation’s global human rights vision, these organizations work in different parts of the world to address pressing issues. The first partner is GOAL, which is based in Dublin. This organization responds to humanitarian crises around the world and, instead of providing a Band-Aid for the situation, works to develop local capacity. The work has helped some of the most vulnerable populations in the world to develop a greater sense of self-efficacy and self-reliance, which prepares them to handle crises more effectively in the future.
The Dropbox Foundation also partnered with WITNESS, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit that uses video and other technologies to document the human rights abuses that occur around the world. WITNESS works with global activists to provide them with training and equipment for recording the atrocities that occur on a daily basis so that this evidence can then be disbursed in a safe and ethical manner. The hope is that this documentation will push other organizations to invest in the activists’ cause and call out those who let these violations occur.
The third partner of the foundation is Larkin Street Youth Services, a longstanding San Francisco institution that works primarily with young people in need. The organization gives them the tools they need to reach their potential and escape homelessness. The organization hopes to break the cycle of poverty and homelessness in the United States and create lasting resiliency that will be reflected through the generations.
War Child UK is the other initial partner. Based in London, this organization focuses on children who have lived through conflict in different areas around the world. War Child provides a safe space for these children and connects them to education, while providing other forms of support they need to grow into physically and mentally healthy adults.
Originally published at eugenechriniancharity.com on March 15, 2018.