The Billionaire Philanthropist on the Frontline to Fight COVID-19

The 55-year-old, Jeff Skoll, became a billionaire over twenty years ago, thanks to the­­ stock he got as eBay’s pioneering president. However, he left eBay in 2001, to venture into film production. Ever since, he has co-produced over 100 films, all with one thing in common: socially relevant themes, including climate change and child sexual abuse.

One of his outstanding works is Contagion, which was produced in partnership with Warner Brothers in 2011. The movie is about a global pandemic whose origin was a bat. To many people, it was just a brilliant work of fiction. However, Jeff Skoll had a bigger goal than just entertaining the viewers. He was hoping that the movie would lead to support for providing resources to CDCs in the U.S. He also hoped that through the movie, he would sensitize the world about what a global pandemic would do. The film attracted a vast audience, rising to the best selling title, according to its distributor, Warner Brothers.

Besides backing Contagion, a film about a widespread pandemic, Jeff has been involved in pandemic preparedness since 2009. He pledged $100 million to the Skoll Threats Fund. The fund also helps combat other threats such as climate change, destructive nuclear weapons, and disputes in the Middle East.

Years later, the world is facing an unprecedented pandemic, COVID-19. And once again, Skoll has been on the frontline combating it. This year, he has contributed $200 million to his humanitarian organization. He, however, didn’t publicize his contribution because it was for an emergency.

Some of the beneficiaries of his generosity this year include poor people in Los Angeles, as well as the contact tracing program in California. Besides, Jeff has been contributing towards pandemics research programs through his Global Threats Fund initiative.

Where It Started

Skoll heard of the coronavirus soon after it started, in December 2019. It was a cause for concern. Skoll was particularly worried about African countries. Without hesitation, the Skoll Foundation made its initial grant towards COVID-19 in February. The donation, worth $3 million, was made to a group based in Africa, working with the Africa CDC to enhance African countries’ surveillance and detection of the disease.

It was around the same time that the Bill Gates’ Foundation donated towards the same course. A month later, Skoll Foundation made another grant, this time to the SADICS, which is a foundation based in South Africa, and another group in East Africa.

The Skoll organization later created a fund for its grantees, a total of 64 organizations receiving $50,000 in grants. The recent past has been different for the foundation, with it making donations at home, although they usually support social entrepreneurs in low-income countries.

For instance, Jeff Skoll stretched his generosity to Los Angeles, a county that has been significantly affected by the pandemic. His foundation contributed $2 million to the aid of Los Angeles’ residents. The fund has been providing monetary assistance to families hit by COVID-19. Besides, the foundation offered $8 million in support of California’s response to COVID-19.

Ending Pandemics, a spin-off of the Skoll Global Threats money, has partnered with various government agencies and public health stakeholders in over 30 countries, including Cambodia.

Skoll also made a significant contribution to an epidemiology network project led by Ian Lipkin, a Columbia University epidemiologist.

What Inspires Him?

Jeff Skoll has been playing an active role in pandemic preparedness and prevention, and global philanthropy for almost 20 years. One might wonder what keeps him going. Well, it is quite personal. Back in 2014, while working on Ebola, Skoll contracted a tropical disease that was only diagnosed two years later. Due to the illness, he took an 18-month leave of absence.

Skoll views everything with optimism, even global pandemics. He still hopes that a solution for the COVID-19 will be found

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