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.
Our Larry Brilliant spoke at the Pentagon last week on global threats, outlining the interconnections between multiple threats and the need for a systems perspective in considering solutions. You can watch it here.
Several of our Skoll Global Threats Fund team accompanied Jeff Skoll on a trip to Israel and Palestine earlier this month. The main objectives of the trip were to visit our grantees in the region, assess prospects for peace, and explore both double-bottom-line business opportunities and philanthropic ways to engage constructively in the region. We spent a little over a week there, visiting Skoll Global Threats Fund and Skoll Foundation grantees and speaking with representatives from the business community (including a number of tech startups), civil society and government on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides.
Through the Skoll Foundation and the Skoll Global Threats Fund, Jeff has engaged philanthropically in Israel and Palestine for a number of years, and the trip afforded an opportunity to touch base with several of the groups the two entities work with, including Friends of the Earth Middle East (see photo below), Sadara Ventures, OneVoice, Partners for Sustainable Development, the New Israel Fund and the Telos Group. We also had an opportunity to meet with a range of other civil society players working on issues ranging from economic development to women’s empowerment to nonviolence.
Jeff and our president, Larry Brilliant, had been invited to come to Israel earlier this year by Israeli President Shimon Peres, and they met and had a wide ranging conversation with the President. The group also met with Palestinian Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad to get his assessment of current economic and political challenges in the region, including on the peace process. With Prime Minister Fayyad, we had a chance to discuss the upcoming film from Jeff’s media company, Participant Media, that focuses on the state-building efforts of the Palestinian Authority over the last several years.
All in all, an action-packed and extremely informative set of meetings that provided us a good sense of the complexities and challenges of working in this region at this moment of time.
Jeff Skoll and Larry Brilliant meet with the team from Friends of the Earth Middle East, a 2009 recipient of the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship from the Skoll Foundation, in their Tel Aviv office.
Watch below the panel on catastrophic risk from the recent Skoll World Forum moderated by our president, Larry Brilliant. It’s a far-ranging, insightful discussion of why we, as humanity, are finding it so hard to tackle the big challenges before us. Arianna Huffington of the Huffington Post, Joe Cirincione of Ploughshares Fund, Helene Gayle of CARE and Ian Goldin of the Oxford Martin School share their perspectives.
On Friday, March 30, our President, Larry Brilliant, will moderate a panel with Arianna Huffington, the founder and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post, Helene Gayle, the President and CEO of CARE, Ian Goldin, Director of the Oxford Martin School, and Joe Cirincione, the President of the Ploughshares Fund, to talk about threats to the global commons and how we need to surface new ways to think about them.
Members of our team also helped pull together two “Connect and Collaborate” sessions, one on faith communities as communities of action and another on risk management in a world of global warming. These are but two of a huge number of interesting sessions. Plus, of course, plenaries with some high level folks, including former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, George Soros, Hans Rosling, Carl Pope and more. Again, much of the content will be available either live or archived, so if you can’t join us in Oxford, you can still get the goods!