Salesforce chairman and CEO Marc Benioff. / Justin Sullivan, Getty Images
SAN FRANCISCO - The caricature of a Silicon Valley type - a self-aggrandizing, myopic nerd who lives in a bubble, oblivious to the world - hews to the convenient cookie-cutter image sometimes on display in HBO's Silicon Valley or in reports of rancor within neighborhoods here.
A gentrification crisis gripping San Francisco has focused on the tech community's soul. The influx of successful start-ups has created staggering wealth, leading to an 11.5% jump in rental and housing costs and - in some cases - evictions. Activists have staged protests of buses shuttling tech workers to jobs in Silicon Valley and at the home of a Google employee.
Now, juxtapose the visage of a soulless, clueless engineer with that of tech's royalty giving away more than $1 billion last year - not to mention numerous philanthropic endeavors here.
"Not all tech billionaires spend their fortunes on flashy yachts and on expensive vacations in the Mediterranean with supermodels," says Leila Janah, CEO of Samasource, which helps low-income people gain work with Microsoft, eBay, LinkedIn and other tech companies.
The reality is technology companies and their employees are not responsible for all the ills afflicting San Francisco. Nor do they seek out attention for their good work. Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey joined the board of Build.org, an entrepreneurship program for low-income students. I vividly recall a late-night awards dinner last year at which Dorsey, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and Box CEO Aaron Levie patiently sat for several hours while Build honored local young people.
Not every twenty- and thirty-something luxuriates in a South of Market bar, counting IPO riches. On Tuesday, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation raised nearly $8 million over 24 hours to benefit local charities. At the same time, 20 companies - including Apple, Google, Dropbox, Box and Jawbone - are partnering with the Tipping Point, an anti-poverty organization in the Bay Area, to raise $10 million.
Salesforce.com chairman and CEO Marc Benioff, a fourth-generation San Franciscan, is the driving force behind the UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital and improvements to the San Francisco Unified School District.
"You want to help the community without tooting your own horn," says Sid Espinosa, director of philanthropy and civic engagement at Microsoft.
First, the heavy-duty donors. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, contributed $992.2 million in company stock to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation last year. EBay chairman Pierre Omidyar, Google co-founder Sergey Brin and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen each contributed more than $200 million to nonprofits last year. Oracle CEO Larry Ellison kicked in $72.2 million. And Netscape Communications co-founder Jim Clark chipped in $60 million. All of them were among America's top-50 donors last year, according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy.
Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, along with investor nonpareil Warren Buffett, has spearheaded a campaign to get other American billionaires to give at least half their wealth to charity.
"There is a huge need for more social entrepreneurship, and to put it to its highest and best use," Janah says. "There are some people - like Facebook's founders - who have done an exceptional job."
The giving extends beyond donations and personal time. TrustTheVote Project, based in Palo Alto, Calif., is developing software technology to "improve the process and experience of voting," says Gregory Miller, the project's executive director and former strategic marketer at Netscape Communications.
Nonprofit work is "completely overlooked," Miller says. "We look at the media and we say, 'Really?' There is a lot more going on (in S.F.) than bus protests. This is a perfect example of tech giving back."
Swartz, USA TODAY's San Francisco bureau chief, has covered Silicon Valley for more than 25 years.
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