Person

Jeffrey Skoll

Jeff Skoll 2013 (link) by Skoll World Forum is licensed CC BY 2.0 (link)

Jeffrey Skoll is a left-leaning billionaire and former president of eBay. He has since become founder of the film production firm Participant, and a network of grantmaking foundations that include the Skoll Foundation, the Skoll Fund, and the Skoll Global Threats Fund. In 2019, Forbes magazine estimated Skoll’s net worth at $5 billion, placing him 131st on the publication’s annual list of the 400 wealthiest Americans. [1]

A 2013 profile in The Guardian, a left-leaning British newspaper, said Participant “produces blockbusters that feature political or social messages,” and that Skoll’s overall mission in films and elsewhere was investing in “progressive causes” and “galvanizing world opinion.” [2]  Examples of left-leaning causes and persons that have received sympathetic and promotional portrayals in Participant films include Occupy Wall Street,[3] Voters Not Politicians,[4] U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg,[5] [6] former President Jimmy Carter,[7] and former Vice President Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth. [8] Conversely, Participant films are reliably critical of right-of-center individuals and causes,[9] with one example being former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. [10]

Through 2017 Skoll’s foundations have given grants totaling at least $499.5 million, with $129.4 million (25.9 percent) of this going to left-leaning policy and left-leaning environmental policy organizations. The Climate Reality Project, a left-leaning environmentalist organization founded by Al Gore, received at least $65 million from the Skoll entities—nearly half of all foundation donations given to Gore’s project through 2017. Other examples of left-leaning recipients of Skoll funding include Health Care Without Harm, Media Matters for America, the New Venture Fund, the Environmental Defense Fund, the League of Conservation Voters Action Fund, Let’s Breakthrough, and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. [11] [12]

Background

Jeffrey Skoll is a left-leaning billionaire and former president of eBay. He has since founded the film production firm Participant, and created a network of grantmaking foundations named after him. [13] [14]

He was born in Montreal, Quebec, and received his MBA from Stanford in 1995. Shortly thereafter, eBay founder Pierre Omidyar hired Skoll as eBay’s first full-time employee and first president. Skoll remained eBay president from 1995 until 2001, after which he left the company to become a full-time philanthropist and film producer. In October 2019, Forbes magazine estimated Skoll’s net worth at $5 billion, placing him 131st on the publication’s annual list of the 400 wealthiest Americans. [15] [16]

A 2013 profile in The Guardian, a left-leaning British newspaper, said Skoll “produces blockbusters that feature political or social messages,” and that his overall mission in films and elsewhere was investing in “progressive causes” and “galvanizing world opinion.” [17]

Films

Also see Participant (for profit)

Participant (formerly known as Participant Media) is a privately held film production company founded in 2004 by Skoll. [18] [19] As of January 2020, Participant had produced more than 100 documentary and feature films. [20]

The firm’s projects align with and advance Skoll’s left-leaning societal and ideological agendas. For as many as five films per year, Participant creates “social impact campaigns” to promote the message featured in the movie projects, often in partnership with a like-minded advocacy group. The Sierra Club, a left-of-center environmental advocacy organization, and the National Domestic Workers Alliance, an advocacy organization funded by left-leaning labor unions and foundations, are examples of two such partnerships. [21]

In March 2015 the Hollywood trade newspaper Variety said “Participant measures the success of its films not just by the awards they win, but by the number of viewers they move to action” and described the firm’s influence with its audience as “3.1 million individuals accessible via email” and  “777,000 “actions” (signing petitions, writing lawmakers, pledging behavioral changes) taken in a single recent month.” The filmmaker behind two of the firm’s projects—including An Inconvenient Truth, starring former Vice President Al Gore—told Variety that Participant was “the best place to build a social action campaign, and give a cause movie a really, really long life.” [22]

An Inconvenient Truth was one of Participant’s earliest and most successful left-leaning message films. The 2006 environmentalist documentary features Gore presenting what he believes to be the inevitable consequences of climate change. [23] The film was promoted with a trailer[24] stating it was “the most terrifying film you will ever see” and would “shake you to your core”; a lawsuit against a plan to show the film to secondary students in the United Kingdom led a judge to rule that Gore’s presentation was “one sided,” arrived at “apocalyptic” conclusions, and contained nine “significant errors” occurring within a “context of alarmism and exaggeration.” [25] [26] One such “distinctly alarmist” claim was Gore’s assertion that sea levels would rise by 20 feet within the “near future.” [27] [28] September 2019 estimates from NASA showed average annual sea level increases since 1993 had been 3.3 millimeters—roughly the thickness of a penny stacked atop a nickel—a rate of increase that would put off a 20 foot sea level rise for more than 18 centuries. [29] [30]

A few examples of other left-leaning causes and persons that have received sympathetic and promotional portrayals in Participant films include Occupy Wall Street,[31] Voters Not Politicians,[32] Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg,[33] [34] and former President Jimmy Carter. [35] Conversely, Participant films are reliably critical of right-of-center individuals and causes,[36] such as former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. [37] Participant also produces documentaries and dramatic portrayals of historical events that have no discernible ideological alignment, one of the most successful being Charlie Wilson’s War. [38] [39]

Philanthropy

Also see the Skoll Foundation, the Skoll Fund, and the Skoll Global Threats Fund.

Jeffrey Skoll is the founder of and major donor to two large 501(c)(3) private grantmaking foundations: the Skoll Foundation and the Skoll Fund. Tax returns filed for 2017 showed the two foundations with a combined net asset value in excess of $1.1 billion. A third fund, Skoll Global Threats Fund, is a grantmaking subsidiary of the Skoll Foundation. [40]

The charitable recordkeeping service FoundationSearch reports at least $499.5 million in total grants given by the Skoll Foundation and the Skoll Fund through donor year 2017. This total would also roughly include the $67 million given by the Skoll Global Threats Fund during the same period, as FoundationSearch records show all of the $87.7 million received in foundation donations through 2017 by the Skoll Global Threats Fund came from the Skoll Foundation. [41]

Left-leaning policy and left-leaning environmental policy organizations were given at least $129.4 million (25.9 percent) of the $499.5 million given by all Skoll foundations through 2017. [42]

The Skoll Foundation

According to tax returns filed for 2017, the Skoll Foundation held net assets of more than $607 million. [43] FoundationSearch reports that $197.8 million in donations were given by the Skoll Foundation during donation years 2003 through 2016, with the largest chunk ($87.7 million—or 44.3 percent of the total) given to the Skoll Global Threats Fund, a subsidiary of the Skoll Foundation. [44]

Left-leaning policy and left-leaning environmental policy organizations received at least $27.2 million in direct donations from the Skoll Foundation, 13.8 percent of the total given during the 2003 through 2016 donation years. This total included $25 million for the Climate Reality Project (formerly the Alliance for Climate Protection), Al Gore’s environmentalist advocacy group; $1.5 million for Health Care Without Harm; and $775,000 for Ceres, an environmentalist investment strategy entity. [45]

The Skoll Foundation also supports the Skoll World Form, an annual gathering of “social entrepreneurs” at the University of Oxford to collaborate with one another and mostly discuss issues involving assistance to the developing world and other social policy concerns. [46] The event features awards for exceptional service in these areas, with examples of recipients being the Khan Academy for striving “to provide a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere”;[47] Girls Not Brides, which works to end child marriage;[48] and the Afghan Institute of Learning, a program for improving health care and education in Afghanistan. [49] For donor year 2018 the Skoll Foundation reported spending more than $5.4 million for “activities related to the production of the Skoll World Forum.” [50]

The Skoll Global Threats Fund

The Skoll Global Threats Fund is a controlled entity of the Skoll Foundation. According to the charitable foundation recordkeeping service FoundationSearch, the Skoll Foundation gave $87.7 million to the Skoll Global Threats Fund during donation years 2003 through 2016. This total appears to be nearly (if not absolutely) 100 percent of the funding received by the Skoll Global Threats Fund during this era. [51] [52]

FoundationSearch reports $67 million in donations given out by the Skoll Global Threats Fund during donation years 2010 through 2016. Nearly three dozen left-leaning public policy and left-leaning environmental policy organizations received $24.8 million of this total—or 37 percent. Some examples of recipients in this category include the Climate Reality Project ($10 million), the Energy Foundation ($1 million), Media Matters for America ($400,000), the New Venture Fund ($625,000), and the League of Conservation Voters Education Fund ($530,000). [53]

Programs and organizations assisting with disease prevention and conflict resolution were the other major funding priority of the Skoll Global Threats Fund during the 2010 through 2016 era. The total donations for this group put together was at least $24.2 million—36.1 percent of all donations for the 2010 through 2016 donation range. Some examples of recipients in this category include the left-leaning Center for a New American Security, which received a grant in 2016 to prevent “Saudi-Iranian nuclear competition;” and the International Society for Infectious Diseases. [54]

The Skoll Fund

FoundationSearch reports $301.7 million in donations given by the Skoll Fund during donation years 2003 through 2017. [55]

At least 15 left-leaning public policy and left-leaning climate policy organizations received nearly $77.4 million of this total, or more than 25 percent of all donations for the 2003 through 2017 donation periods.  The largest single recipient in this category, and also the largest individual recipient of Skoll Fund donations, was the Climate Reality Project, which received $30 million. Other left-leaning recipients of major total contributions included the New Venture Fund ($21 million), Ceres ($7.4 million), the Environmental Defense Fund ($5 million), the Energy Foundation ($4 million), Health Care Without Harm ($4 million), Let’s Breakthrough ($1.25 million), and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society ($680,000). [56]

The other major priority of the Skoll Fund during donation years 2003 through 2017 was poverty mitigation. At least 27 organizations individually received at least $600,000 from the Skoll Fund to implement poverty alleviation programs in developing nations and within the United States. The total donations for this group put together was nearly $82.8 million, or more than 27 percent of all donations for the 2003 through 2017 donation period. Examples in this category include VisionSpring ($2.9 million), an organization that provides optometry, eyeglasses and other vision care services to low income persons in the developing world, and the One Acre Fund ($18.3 million), which helps improve the productivity of small farms in the developing world. [57] [58] [59]

Support for Al Gore

Through his film company and his foundations Jeffrey Skoll has been a one of the major financial contributors to the left-leaning environmentalist agenda of former Vice President Al Gore.

Two of the more than 100 films produced by Participant, Skoll’s film production firm, have starred Gore: An Inconvenient Truth (2006)[60]  and An Inconvenient Sequel (2017). [61] Skoll was the executive producer for both films and was one of the individuals who persuaded Gore to transform his stage show presentations about climate change into the first film. [62]

In addition, the Climate Reality Project (formerly the Alliance for Climate Protection) has received at least $65 million in direct funding from Skoll’s three foundations during donor years 2007 through 2018. Founded and led by Gore, the Climate Reality Project promotes environmentalist approaches to reducing climate change and opposes the use of conventional energy sources including gasoline, natural gas and coal. According to the charitable recordkeeping service FoundationSearch, this is almost half (48.2 percent) of total foundation donations given to the Climate Reality Project for those years. [63] [64]

References

  1. Skoll Foundation. 2017 IRS Form 990; Skoll Fund. 2017 IRS Form 990.[/note] [note]“Forbes 400: #131.” Forbes.com. October 2, 2019. Accessed February 5, 2020. https://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:LotOyl9l-D8J:https://www.forbes.com/profile/jeffrey-skoll/%3Flist%3Dforbes-400+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us ^
  2. Braw, Elisabeth. “Ex-eBay president and activist Jeff Skoll on making movies with a message.” The Guardian. November 29, 2013. Accessed February 5, 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/ebay-jeff-skoll-movies-message-sustainability ^
  3. “99%: The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film.” Participant. Accessed February 5, 2020. https://participant.com/film/99-occupy-wall-street-collaborative-film ^
  4. Gleiberman, Owen. “Tribeca Film Review: ‘Slay the Dragon.’” Variety. April 28, 2019. Accessed February 5, 2020.  https://variety.com/2019/film/reviews/slay-the-dragon-review-gerrymandering-1203199856/ ^
  5. “On the Basis of Sex.” Participant. Accessed February 5, 2020. https://participant.com/film/basis-sex ^
  6. “RBG.” Participant. Accessed January 22, 2020. https://participant.com/film/rbg ^
  7. “Jimmy Carter Man From Plains.” Participant. Accessed February 5, 2020. https://participant.com/film/jimmy-carter-man-plains ^
  8. Rainey, James. “Jeff Skoll Aims to Fix Participant’s ‘Broken’ Parts.” Variety. March 31, 2015. Accessed February 5, 2020. https://variety.com/2015/digital/news/jeff-skoll-participant-interview-1201463011/ ^
  9. “Films and Television.” Participant. Accessed February 5, 2020. https://participant.com/film ^
  10. “The Unknown Known.” Participant. Accessed February 5, 2020. https://participant.com/film/unknown-known ^
  11. Skoll Foundation. 2017 IRS Form 990; Skoll Fund. 2017 IRS Form 990. ^
  12. The Climate Reality Project: Our Mission. Accessed February 6, 2020. https://www.climaterealityproject.org/our-mission ^
  13. Skoll Foundation. 2017 IRS Form 990; Skoll Fund. 2017 IRS Form 990. ^
  14. “Forbes 400: #131.” Forbes.com. October 2, 2019. Accessed February 5, 2020. https://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:LotOyl9l-D8J:https://www.forbes.com/profile/jeffrey-skoll/%3Flist%3Dforbes-400+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us ^
  15. Antonucci, Mike. “Jeff Skoll’s Philanthropy Focuses on World’s Biggest Challenges.” Stanford Graduate School of Business. October 24, 2012. Accessed February 5, 2020. https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/insights/jeff-skolls-philanthropy-focuses-worlds-biggest-challenges ^
  16. “Forbes 400: #131.” Forbes.com. October 2, 2019. Accessed February 5, 2020. https://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:LotOyl9l-D8J:https://www.forbes.com/profile/jeffrey-skoll/%3Flist%3Dforbes-400+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us ^
  17. Braw, Elisabeth. “Ex-eBay president and activist Jeff Skoll on making movies with a message.” The Guardian. November 29, 2013. Accessed February 5, 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/ebay-jeff-skoll-movies-message-sustainability ^
  18. Rainey, James. “Jeff Skoll Aims to Fix Participant’s ‘Broken’ Parts.” Variety. March 31, 2015. Accessed January 17, 2020. https://variety.com/2015/digital/news/jeff-skoll-participant-interview-1201463011/ ^
  19. Faughnder, Ryan. “‘Green Book’ and ‘Roma’ producer Participant gets a makeover as it rides ‘conscious consumer’ wave.” Los Angeles Times. September 6, 2019. Accessed January 17, 2020. https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/business/story/2019-09-06/green-book-and-roma-producer-participant-gets-a-face-lift-amid-conscious-consumer-wave ^
  20. “About Participant.” Participant. Accessed February 5, 2020. https://participant.com/about-participant#block-views-team-block-1 ^
  21. “How Participant Media Tries to Spark Social Change Through Film.” Chronicle of Philanthropy. January 10, 2020. Accessed February 5, 2020. https://www.philanthropy.com/article/How-Participant-Media-Tries-to/247828 ^
  22. Rainey, James. “Jeff Skoll Aims to Fix Participant’s ‘Broken’ Parts.” Variety. March 31, 2015. Accessed February 5, 2020. https://variety.com/2015/digital/news/jeff-skoll-participant-interview-1201463011/ ^
  23. Antonucci, Mike. “The Whole World in His Plans.” Stanford Magazine. March/April 2012. Accessed February 5, 2020. https://stanfordmag.org/contents/the-whole-world-in-his-plans ^
  24. “An Inconvenient Truth.” Participant. Accessed February 5, 2020. https://participant.com/film/inconvenient-truth ^
  25. Adam, David. “Gore’s climate film has scientific errors – judge.” The Guardian. October 11, 2007. Accessed February 5, 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2007/oct/11/climatechange ^
  26. Baram, Marcus. “An Inconvenient Verdict for Al Gore.” ABC News. October 12, 2007. Accessed February 5, 2020. https://abcnews.go.com/US/TenWays/story?id=3719791&page=1 ^
  27. Adam, David. “Gore’s climate film has scientific errors – judge.” The Guardian. October 11, 2007. Accessed February 5, 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2007/oct/11/climatechange ^
  28. “An Inconvenient Truth.” Participant. Accessed Feruary 5, 2020.. https://participant.com/film/inconvenient-truth ^
  29. “Vital Signs: Sea Level.” NASA: Global Climate Change. September 2019. Accessed February 5, 2020. https://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/sea-level/ ^
  30. “Coin Specifications.” United States Mint (USMINT.gov). Accessed February 5, 2020. https://www.usmint.gov/learn/coin-and-medal-programs/coin-specifications ^
  31. “99%: The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film.” Participant. Accessed February 5, 2020. https://participant.com/film/99-occupy-wall-street-collaborative-film ^
  32. Gleiberman, Owen. “Tribeca Film Review: ‘Slay the Dragon.’” Variety. April 28, 2019. Accessed February 5, 2020.  https://variety.com/2019/film/reviews/slay-the-dragon-review-gerrymandering-1203199856/ ^
  33. “On the Basis of Sex.” Participant. Accessed February 5, 2020. https://participant.com/film/basis-sex ^
  34. “RBG.” Participant. Accessed January 22, 2020. https://participant.com/film/rbg ^
  35. “Jimmy Carter Man From Plains.” Participant. Accessed February 5, 2020. https://participant.com/film/jimmy-carter-man-plains ^
  36. “Films and Television.” Participant. Accessed February 5, 2020. https://participant.com/film ^
  37. “The Unknown Known.” Participant. Accessed February 5, 2020. https://participant.com/film/unknown-known ^
  38. “Charlie Wilson’s War.” Participant. Accessed February 5, 2020. https://participant.com/film/charlie-wilsons-war ^
  39. “Films and Television.” Participant. Accessed February 5, 2020. https://participant.com/film ^
  40. Skoll Foundation. 2017 IRS Form 990; Skoll Fund. 2017 IRS Form 990. ^
  41. Skoll Foundation. 2017 IRS Form 990; Skoll Fund. 2017 IRS Form 990. ^
  42. Skoll Foundation. 2017 IRS Form 990; Skoll Fund. 2017 IRS Form 990. ^
  43. Skoll Foundation. 2017 IRS Form 990; Skoll Fund. 2017 IRS Form 990. ^
  44. Data compiled by FoundationSearch.com subscription service, a project of Metasoft Systems, Inc., from forms filed with the Internal Revenue Service. Queries conducted February 5, 2020. ^
  45. Data compiled by FoundationSearch.com subscription service, a project of Metasoft Systems, Inc., from forms filed with the Internal Revenue Service. Queries conducted February 5, 2020. ^
  46. “About: Skoll World Forum.” Skoll.org. Accessed February 5, 2020. http://skoll.org/skoll-world-forum/about/ ^
  47. “Khan Academy.” Skoll.org. Accessed February 5, 2020. http://skoll.org/organization/khan-academy/ ^
  48. “Girls Not Brides.” Skoll.org. Accessed February 5, 2020. http://skoll.org/organization/girls-not-brides/ ^
  49. “Afghan Institute of Learning.” Skoll.org. Accessed February 5, 2020. http://skoll.org/organization/afghan-institute-of-learning/ ^
  50. Skoll Foundation. 2018 IRS Form 990. Accessed February 5, 2020. http://s12982.pcdn.co/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/2018-The-Skoll-Foundation-990PF-Public-Disclosure-Copy.pdf ^
  51. Skoll Foundation. 2017 IRS Form 990; Skoll Fund. 2017 IRS Form 990. ^
  52. Data compiled by FoundationSearch.com subscription service, a project of Metasoft Systems, Inc., from forms filed with the Internal Revenue Service. Queries conducted February 5, 2020. ^
  53. Data compiled by FoundationSearch.com subscription service, a project of Metasoft Systems, Inc., from forms filed with the Internal Revenue Service. Queries conducted February 5, 2020. ^
  54. Data compiled by FoundationSearch.com subscription service, a project of Metasoft Systems, Inc., from forms filed with the Internal Revenue Service. Queries conducted February 5, 2020. ^
  55. Data compiled by FoundationSearch.com subscription service, a project of Metasoft Systems, Inc., from forms filed with the Internal Revenue Service. Queries conducted February 6, 2020. ^
  56. Data compiled by FoundationSearch.com subscription service, a project of Metasoft Systems, Inc., from forms filed with the Internal Revenue Service. Queries conducted February 6, 2020. ^
  57. “One Acre Fund.” Skoll.org. Accessed February 6, 2020. http://skoll.org/organization/one-acre-fund/ ^
  58. “VisionSpring.” Skoll.org. Accessed February 6, 2020. http://skoll.org/organization/visionspring/ ^
  59. Data compiled by FoundationSearch.com subscription service, a project of Metasoft Systems, Inc., from forms filed with the Internal Revenue Service. Queries conducted February 6, 2020. ^
  60. “An Inconvenient Truth.” Participant. Accessed February 6, 2020. https://participant.com/film/inconvenient-truth ^
  61. “WATCH: ‘An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power’ First Clip.” Participant. February 6, 2020. Accessed January 20, 2020. https://participant.com/2017/01/watch-inconvenient-sequel-truth-power-first-clip ^
  62. Antonucci, Mike. “The Whole World in His Plans.” Stanford Magazine. March/April 2012. Accessed February 6, 2020. https://stanfordmag.org/contents/the-whole-world-in-his-plans ^
  63. Data compiled by FoundationSearch.com subscription service, a project of Metasoft Systems, Inc., from forms filed with the Internal Revenue Service. Queries conducted February 6, 2020. ^
  64. The Climate Reality Project: Our Mission. Accessed February 6, 2020. https://www.climaterealityproject.org/our-mission ^

Connected Organizations

  1. Participant (For-profit)
    Founder and Chairman
  2. Skoll Foundation (Non-profit)
    Founder and Chairman
  3. Skoll Fund (Non-profit)
    Founder and Chairman
  4. Skoll Global Threats Fund (Non-profit)
    Founder and Chairman
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