Billionaire philanthropist and investor Laurene Powell Jobs, has selected California’s environmental czar to help kickstart her $3.5 billion pledge to address climate change.
Jared Blumenfeld will step down as the Golden State’s Secretary for Environmental Protection later this year to become president of Powell Jobs’ Waverley Street Foundation, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced Friday. Blumenfeld will be in charge of fulfilling a commitment made by Powell Jobs in September 2021 to donate $3.5 billion toward environmental causes over a decade, the foundation said.
“Our planet, and all of us who inhabit it, face no greater threat than our climate crisis. The Waverley Street Foundation was formed to address this crisis with the kind of bold, innovative ideas that are urgently needed,” Powell Jobs, 58, said in a statement. “In Jared, the Waverley Street Foundation will have a proven leader with the vision and experience that this complex global challenge demands.”
It’s unclear which specific causes and nonprofits Waverley Street will fund or what exactly its priorities will be. In a statement, the foundation said Blumenfeld will “support the groundbreaking work being done in communities across the globe to urgently reduce carbon pollution.”
“Our best solutions and climate heroes are in local communities that are struggling for survival. Waverley Street will place community voices at the center of our work,” Blumenfeld said in a statement.
Founded by Powell Jobs in 2016, the Waverley Street Foundation (called the Emerson Collective Foundation until 2019) is her primary philanthropic vehicle. It has assets of nearly $3 billion, according to a tax filing for 2020, the most recent year available. But its activities are shrouded in secrecy. According to IRS tax forms, Powell gave nearly all of the foundation’s grants—$185 million—from 2017 to 2019 to a donor advised fund at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. Donor advised funds are like philanthropic bank accounts. Sponsoring organizations like Fidelity or in this case, a community foundation like SVCF, invest DAF money so the fund grows. Donors get an immediate tax deduction and can recommend where the money goes over time. DAFs don’t have disclosure requirements or any stipulations on when the money needs to be donated, so it’s unclear if that $185 million has been donated yet or where it went if it has been donated.
A spokesperson for Powell Jobs did not immediately respond to questions from Forbes about her use of DAFs.
Powell Jobs isn’t the only billionaire pledging large sums to help fix climate change through philanthropy. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos committed $10 billion over ten years to address the issue through the Bezos Earth Fund. Swiss billionaire Hansjoerg Wyss pledged $1.5 billion for conservation efforts. Former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg launched a $500 million initiative to close all U.S. coal plants by 2030 and stop the construction of proposed gas plants.
Powell Jobs’ fortune, which Forbes estimates at $15.7 billion, comes primarily from Apple and Disney stock she inherited from her late husband Steve Jobs, who cofounded Apple and animated movie studio Pixar and sold the latter to Disney for $7.4 billion worth of stock in 2006. Since Jobs died in 2011, she’s been putting funds into Emerson Collective, her investment and philanthropic firm, which is similar to Melinda French Gates’ Pivotal Ventures. Through Emerson Collective, Powell Jobs owns a stake in The Atlantic magazine as well as stakes in the Washington Wizards basketball team, the Washington Capitals hockey team, Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine production company and podcast producer Gimlet Media. She was also an early investor in news website Axios, which just announced a deal to sell itself to Cox Enterprises for $525 million earlier this week.