MICHAEL DELL, 42
Cofounder, Michael & Susan Dell Foundation
Grandiose global aid initiatives are noble goals, but Michael Dell prefers to apply the basic rule that helped make him a billionaire in the computer business—you don’t invest in a new project until you’ve tested a prototype. Since cofounding the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation in 1999, he has shelled out more than $115 million to nonprofits in his native Texas, with the idea that these pilot efforts can be tested, perfected, and then exported. “Many of the initiatives in Central Texas have been models for success in other communities,“ he says. “Our foundation’s scope has grown across the U.S.“ And beyond. With a $1 billion endowment, the foundation is funding programs, such as teacher-development projects in Central Texas and now in Central India, that show local testing can yield global results.
MELINDA GATES, 43
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Co-chair
When, in 1999, Bill and Melinda Gates were investigating causes to contribute to, they discovered that malaria—a disease that kills more than a million people a year, most children in Africa—had largely been overlooked by U.S. philanthropists. Melinda told Time magazine they had found a “vacuum that does need to be stepped into.“ In 2005, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which effectively doubled in size in 2006 when Warren Buffett made a donation of $31 billion, provided more than $500 million to help develop affordable vaccines and drugs to treat the disease as well as prevention programs. Since then, corporations such as Exxon Mobil, Pepsi, Chevron, JP Morgan, and KPMG have joined the Foundation’s fight to eradicate malaria; the Bush administration even hosted a summit of political leaders, scientists, and advocates. “When you’re the largest philanthropic organization on the face of the earth and your resources come from people who’ve made good bets in the past, people tend to follow your judgment,“ says Helene Gayle, president of CARE, a group that fights global poverty. “Melinda has an ability to connect with people from all walks of life. People enjoy working with her.“
BEN GOLDHIRSH, 27
GOOD media, Founder; Goldhirsh Foundation, Director
His father championed entrepreneurs by founding Inc. magazine in 1979, but Ben Goldhirsh is applying the same start-up spirit—and a hefty chunk of his inheritance—to a much different business: philanthropy. Along with his sister, the Brown graduate runs the Goldhirsh Foundation, which donates millions annually to cancer research and public-education programs that teach entrepreneurial skills to kids. Goldhirsh also founded the three-year-old GOOD media empire, which includes Good magazine, a publication promoting social consciousness (all subscription fees go to charity—one of the subscriber’s choosing) and Reason Pictures, whose films explore everything from global drug trafficking to immigration politics. “We’re celebrating the sensibility of giving a damn,“ says Goldhirsh. “That’s got to become the dominant sensibility, because there really isn’t any other choice.“
CRAIG KIELBURGER, 24 // MARK KIELBURGER, 30
Founder and Chair, Free the Children // Chief Executive Director, Free the Children
After Craig Kielburger read, at the age of 12, about the horrors of child labor, he enlisted his older brother, Marc, and founded Free the Children, an organization dedicated to helping kids assist impoverished and exploited minors around the globe. Twelve years later, Free the Children, which gets 65 percent of its donations from people under 18, has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize on three occasions, provided $11 million worth of medical supplies to developing countries, and sent thousands of teens and tweens to China, Ecuador, Kenya, and Mexico, where they get their hands dirty building schools (they’ve constructed 450 so far) alongside their less fortunate peers. “Young people are energetic, idealistic and compassionate,“ says Craig Kielburger, “They just need a way to translate their passion into action.“
STEPHON MARBURY, 30
Creator, the Starbury Collection
Perhaps you’ve been struck by the irony of certain NBA stars, whose $150 (ahem, Lebron) and $175 (ahem, Jordan) sneakers suck millions out of inner-city communities, making a show of giving a minute percentage of their earnings back to those neighborhoods. Knicks’ guard Stephon Marbury was, and decided to give money back by not taking it out. In August 2006, the Coney Island native enlisted discount retailer Steve & Barry’s to produce his signature shoe, the Starbury; retail price: $14.98. Now, with millions of shoes sold (Marbury is also donating 10 percentage of profits to inner city causes) and a new high-profile Starbury signee—the Bulls’ Ben Wallace—Marbury is hoping a good value can help change values. “Kids know fashion and nice cars, but we’re teaching them not to get wrapped up in those things,“ says Marbury. “When you can change culture with the tiniest thing, like $14.98 sneakers, that’s what you’re supposed to do.“
PIERRE OMIDYAR, 40
Omidyar Network, Cofounder
Pierre Omidyar proved that engaging large numbers of individuals in a for-profit enterprise can be a force for change when he founded eBay. With the Omidyar Network, which launched in 2004, the billionaire applied a profit-to-the-people approach to the philanthropic sector. Part humanitarian foundation, part venture-capital firm, the Network funds a wide variety of organizations—from Unitus Equity Fund, which supports microlending in India, to DonorsChoose.org, an online marketplace that connects donors directly with school projects that need funding. But Omidyar doesn’t give to charity; instead, he invests his money (more than $30 million of it and counting) in for-profit businesses—specifically, social entrepreneurs who promote individual empowerment—long seen as the enemy in the do-gooder world. “He is questioning the very way philanthropy works, “ says Stacy Palmer, editor of The Chronicle of Philanthropy, “and everybody is watching.“ More important, everybody is benefiting.
JJ RAMBERG, 36 // KEN RAMBERG, 42
When you pose a simple question, sometimes you find a simple answer. “What if people could generate money for their favorite cause just by doing something they do every single day?“ asked Ken Ramberg, who founded GoodSearch in 2004 with his sister, JJ. Their solution: an online search engine that raises money for charity each time users do a search. Neither the user nor the charity (chosen by the user) pays a thing, since donations come out of the revenue generated by ads on the site’s Yahoo!-powered search engine. To date, the Rambergs’ brainchild has distributed funds to more than 40,000 charities and schools. “Some people care about a cure for cancer, or homes for homeless pets, or the environment,“ says JJ Ramberg. “We created a way for people to feel connected to these causes as they go about their everyday lives.“
CAMERON SINCLAIR, 34
Architecture for Humanity, Co-founder
Architect Cameron Sinclair has never wanted to be featured in one of those weighty coffee-table books favored by design aesthetes. Instead, he brings basic shelter and community facilities to people in need, like Sri Lankans struck by the 2004 tsunami and Gulf Coast residents hit by Hurricane Katrina. “The photos of star architects’ buildings are like a glossy kitchen with a dead fish on the counter,“ he says. “It looks like no one lives there. In the photos of our buildings, you can barely see the house because of all of the people.“ In 2006, Sinclair won the prestigious TED prize, which is awarded to a person who has a “positive impact on the planet“ (Bill Clinton won this year). Sinclair’s innovation is to bring architecture to the masses through an online database of blueprints, contracts, and building information that anyone can access for free. “The way Cameron talks about design, it feels so easy,“ says Amy Novogratz, the TED prize director. “His whole thing is let’s stop the talk and do the work.“ Regardless of whether anyone puts it on display.