It’s not just that Laurene Powell Jobs avoids the spotlight, although she does. And it’s not that she was often overshadowed by her larger-than-life husband Steve, the co-founder of Apple, although she was. It’s certainly not that she isn’t capable; she clearly is. It’s just that she seems to prefer quiet grace over bells and whistles when it comes to her philanthropic pursuits. Ms. Powell Jobs has long advocated for the intrinsically-linked causes of education and immigration reform, social justice, and the environment. She’s just done it her way.
Her late husband Steve was often criticized for not being philanthropically motivated. The truth, however, is that the Jobs have been giving away money and gifts anonymously for over two decades. In an interview with the New York Times, Ms. Powell Jobs said, “We’re really careful about amplifying the great work of others in every way that we can, and we don’t like attaching our names to things.”
Powell Jobs is the founder and chair of the Emerson Collective, an organization that focuses on using entrepreneurship to advance social reform and help under-resourced students. Consistent with her desire to work behind the scenes, Powell Jobs set Emerson up as a limited liability corporation, like a small business, instead of a tax-exempt 501(c)(3), like most charitable organizations. That means that Emerson can make grants, for-profit investments and political donations without having to publicly report its donations as a 501(c)(3) does.
Powell Jobs has quietly advocated for education reform for years. She is the co-founder and President of the East Palo Alto based nonprofit College Track. It helps prepare low-income students from underserved communities for college. The program, known for providing rigorous academic training and extracurricular activities, has worked with thousands of students, 90 percent of whom were accepted into college.
Her work with College Track led her to flex her political and economic muscle in support of the Dream Act. The DREAM Act would have given young people brought to the United States as minors by undocumented parents a chance to serve in the U.S. armed forces or pursue higher education while providing a path to citizenship. When the DREAM Act failed to muster the support it needed to pass Congress, Powell Jobs commissioned a film by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Davis Guggenheim. Titled “The Dream is Now,” the film was used by Powell Jobs to press key members of Congress to act on the issue. She subsequently launched a web site where the film can be viewed by the general public.
Powell Jobs has also supported numerous causes in Africa. In 2010, she traveled to Congo with actor and director Ben Affleck to support his Eastern Congo Initiative. As a board member of Conservation International, she traveled to Botswana to meet with sub-Saharan Africa leaders. In addition to her work with the Emerson Collective, College Track and Conservation International, Powell Jobs sits on the boards of The NewSchools Venture Fund, The Foundation for Excellence in Education and Stanford University. She is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations advisory board.