Was Steve Jobs the World’s Greatest Philanthropist?

Dan Pallotta, an expert in nonprofit sector innovation, says YES. And he says this in spite of the fact that Steve Jobs did not give away lots of his money. Here’s the core of Pallotta’s argument:

What a loss to humanity it would have been if Jobs had dedicated the last 25 years of his life to figuring out how to give his billions away, instead of doing what he does best.

We’d still be waiting for a cell phone on which we could actually read e-mail and surf the web. “We” includes students, doctors, nurses, aid workers, charity leaders, social workers, and so on. It helps the blind read text and identify currency. It helps physicians improve their performance and surgeons improve their practice. It even helps charities raise money.

We’d be a decade or more away from the iPad, which has ushered in an era of reading electronically that promises to save a Sherwood Forest worth of trees and all of the energy associated with trucking them around. That’s just the beginning. Doctors are using the iPad to improve healthcare. It’s being used to lessen the symptoms of autism, to improve kids’ creativity, and to revolutionize medical training.

And you can’t say someone else would have developed these things. No one until Jobs did, and the competitive devices that have come since have taken the entirety of their inspiration from his creation.

Without Steve Jobs we’d be years away from a user-friendly mechanism for getting digital music without stealing it, which means we’d still be producing hundreds of millions of CDs with plastic cases.

We would be without Pixar. There’s a sentence with an import inversely correlated to its length.

We would be without the 34,000 full-time jobs Apple has created, just within Apple, not to mention all of the manufacturing jobs it has created for those who would otherwise live in poverty.

We would be without the wealth it has created for millions of Americans who have invested in the company.

Pallotta challenges us to see “philanthropy” in a different light. I urge you to read this challenging article, especially if you’re thinking about joining the Occupy Wall Street protest or one of its copycats.

  • Stephanie Ann Martin

    I wonder why you say, “especially if”? What does the one have to do with the other?

    And… couldn’t one suggest that too much credit is being given to Jobs? Perhaps he was an exceptional leader or, even, visionary, but the products must have been socially/corporately constructed inside the company(ies) — but Jobs pulled in the credit and maybe more than the lion’s share of the benefit. Why isn’t Apple routinely listed in rankings of “best places to work” we might wonder? What about the Foxconn scandle that Apple (yes, among other tech companies) is part of? And so on.

    I don’t mean to suggest anything more than I don’t think that philanthropy can become “gee whiz, what neat products that have done these neat things that have advanced the developed world in neat ways” without turning to problematize the spaces and consider the real problems. The problems are still there. It is a challenging article. But Jobs moved in and out of spaces of power — real power — and interrogating that power is worth considering to the full, even if his vision and leadership deserve veneration for what they also wrought.

  • Stephanie Ann Martin

    I wonder why you say, “especially if”? What does the one have to do with the other?

    And… couldn’t one suggest that too much credit is being given to Jobs? Perhaps he was an exceptional leader or, even, visionary, but the products must have been socially/corporately constructed inside the company(ies) — but Jobs pulled in the credit and maybe more than the lion’s share of the benefit. Why isn’t Apple routinely listed in rankings of “best places to work” we might wonder? What about the Foxconn scandle that Apple (yes, among other tech companies) is part of? And so on.

    I don’t mean to suggest anything more than I don’t think that philanthropy can become “gee whiz, what neat products that have done these neat things that have advanced the developed world in neat ways” without turning to problematize the spaces and consider the real problems. The problems are still there. It is a challenging article. But Jobs moved in and out of spaces of power — real power — and interrogating that power is worth considering to the full, even if his vision and leadership deserve veneration for what they also wrought.


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