In 2010, several billionaires led by Warren Buffett, Melinda French Gates and Bill Gates formed a community around a specific take on philanthropic giving. Each of the original 40 participants pledged to give at least half of their accumulated wealth to find and bring solutions to the most urgent issues of today. This became the Giving Pledge.
To date, the pledge has grown to include 231 diverse individuals and couples from around the globe. What they all have in common is both wealth and the willingness to direct their capital to solve critical challenges. In 2017, entrepreneur Robert F. Smith took the pledge. As the first African American man to join, his pledge reflected that heritage.
“I will never forget that my path was paved by my parents, grandparents and generations of African Americans whose names I will never know. Their struggles, their courage, and their progress allowed me to strive and achieve. My story would only be possible in America, and it is incumbent on all of us to pay this inheritance forward,” Smith’s pledge letter states.
Education and Environmental Equity for All People
Smith’s STEM-based background, with a degree in chemical engineering from Cornell University and MBA from Columbia Business School have afforded him a unique perspective on the development of community-based solutions. But Smith was influenced by his father’s local community work in Denver as well.
“I saw my dad make sure that all the little kids who looked like me had a local YMCA to go to. Sometimes we think it’s just the Giving Pledge-kind of people making a difference, but it’s also individuals who may not have great wealth but who give generously of their time and resources,” said Smith in a 2020 interview.
Working to help uplift communities is at the very root of Smith’s philanthropy. Since 2014, Smith has worked with the Fund II Foundation, a 501c3 nonprofit granting organization dedicated to preserving the African American experience, safeguarding human rights, providing music education, and advancing environmental justice for African Americans. Fund II Foundation’s partnerships include working with the National Park Foundation to support and promote outdoor education for people of all ages and backgrounds and preserve African American cultural landmarks.
Together, Smith and Fund II Foundation have helped to launch Student Freedom Initiative and internXL, helping to create the infrastructure to nurture and support a pipeline of Black talent and ingenuity from the school room to the board room.
Learn more about Smith’s love of the outdoors and his support of organizations such as the Anglers of Honor and Lincoln Hills Cares.