In 2008, Jeff Skoll set out to test whether a limited-life organization with $100 million and a band of driven and skillful “threat-ologists” could make progress against five of the gravest threats to humanity — climate change, pandemics, water security, nuclear proliferation, and conflict in the Middle East. After spending down the original $100 million gift, the Skoll Global Threats Fund (SGTF) experiment is now coming to an end. Jeff Skoll’s philanthropy and commitment to global threats will continue, informed by lessons learned at SGTF. The work is being reorganized, spun out, and unified with Jeff’s core philanthropic enterprise, the Skoll Foundation.
- Our pandemics work has demonstrated what’s possible to improve early detection and response to disease outbreaks. Leveraging strong public interest in pandemics due to Ebola, Zika, and more, SGTF is now taking its Ending Pandemics initiative independent, allowing it to focus exclusively on its mission of detecting, verifying, and reporting potential disease outbreaks faster. For more information, please visit endingpandemics.org
- The Climate Advocacy Lab, rolled out in 2015 to promote evidence-based advocacy, is growing in membership, activities, and interest. We have incubated the Lab to date, but are now shifting the Lab to be community-owned, independent of SGTF, since only broad embrace of evidence-based practices will improve sector effectiveness as a whole. The Lab will become part of shared infrastructure for the climate and clean energy sector to enhance collaborative campaigns. For more information, please go climateadvocacylab.org
- Our resilience and water security work has focused on how climate and water shocks propagate through the international system and how to head-off consequent tensions. We are exiting grantmaking in this space, but have provided transition support to New America, the MIT Co-Lab, and several more groups to build off these efforts going forward.
- On nuclear nonproliferation, we have focused on reducing risk through public engagement and policy innovation. We have also done exploratory work to examine threats from emerging technologies, including cybersecurity and artificial intelligence. This work will continue at the Skoll Foundation (skoll.org).
The Skoll Global Threat Fund has done impactful work to advance change on difficult, potentially catastrophic global challenges. We have learned much over these last eight years on what works, and what doesn’t, and have put together a high-level assessment of lessons learned that we hope can be useful. (You can find that here.) These lessons will help inform Jeff’s philanthropy for the next decade and beyond and are particularly relevant as he brings on new leadership in 2018 to the Skoll Foundation to help lead all his philanthropic work.
There is no straight line for progress on global threats. The threats we set out to work on in 2008 continue to evolve, and new threats have since emerged. While we are proud of SGTF’s contributions, there is much urgent work to do. We sincerely hope we’ve explored some paths for working on global threats that others can build on. That work is risky by nature, requiring novel collaboration, a hardworking and humbly ambitious team, an ability to fail forward, and ceaseless optimism about the transformative potential of solutions despite the daunting scale of the threat. We urge others to take the leap and join the fight against threats to humanity. The risks of inaction are too great to stay on the sidelines.