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Tech Museum to give humanitarian award to former eBay President Jeff Skoll

By John Boudreau San Jose Mercury News   Jeff Skoll has a business plan for making the world a better place.   Most people who might put forth such a plan would be laughed at as simplistic and Pollyannaish. But anyone inclined to laugh at Skoll should first take a glance at his résumé.   As eBay’s (EBAY) first president, he wrote the business plan for the San Jose online auction company. As a philanthropist, Skoll, at age 46, has already given away a billion dollars. His film company, Participant Media, launched seven years ago, quickly garnered a reputation in Hollywood for producing well-respected movies with social messages that regularly garner Academy Award nominations. Meanwhile, he has created his own private wealth-management firm, Capricorn, which makes socially conscious investments in companies such as the manufacturer of installed water-free urinals.   On Wednesday, the Tech Museum will announce that Skoll is the winner of the 2011 James C. Morgan Global Humanitarian Award. The honor is part of San Jose’s Tech Museum’s annual awards program, which spotlights the work of social entrepreneurs who use low-cost technology to change lives around the world. The Tech Awards Gala, whose lead sponsor is Applied Materials, will be held Oct. 20 at the Santa Clara Convention Center.   “Jeff Skoll perfectly fits all the qualifications of the global humanitarian,” said David Whitman, executive director of The Tech Awards. “He really used the fortune he made at eBay and focused it on social benefit, which has had great repercussions around the world. He had his start here in the valley. He is exactly the kind of person we wanted to recognize.”   Previous humanitarian winners include former Vice President Al Gore, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, Intel (INTC) co-founder Gordon Moore, Jordan’s Queen Rania and Muhammad Yunus, pioneer of micro credit and founder of the Grameen Bank.   “It’s humbling. It really is,” Skoll said in an interview.   In 1998, Skoll pioneered the use of pre-IPO stock to launch a foundation when he helped create the eBay Foundation. A year later, he started the Skoll Foundation, now based in Palo Alto with assets of about $1 billion, which aims to promote “a sustainable world of peace and prosperity” by backing such groups as the Amazon Conservation Team. The organization trains tribesmen to use GPS devices to monitor their land and prevent illegal deforestation.   Skoll joined the Bill Gates and Warren Buffett Giving Pledge to eventually give away most of his wealth. In 2009, Skoll founded the Skoll Global Threats Fund, which supports initiatives focused on climate change, water scarcity, pandemics, nuclear proliferation and the Middle East conflict. The fund is led by Larry Brilliant, former executive director of Google.org.   Skoll’s inspiration to go to Hollywood wasn’t to show up in gossip columns with movie stars but to use the power of storytelling to address pressing societal problems. The movies Skoll produces are as serious as his philanthropy — they focus on such areas as education reform, women’s rights, global warming and the nuclear arms race. He backed Gore’s Oscar-winning documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” and partnered with the film’s director to produce “Waiting for Superman,” the highly acclaimed documentary about America’s failing public schools.   “Film is a powerful way to change behavior,” Skoll said.   Participant Media works with hundreds of nonprofits and corporations to develop campaigns that encourage audiences to get involved in issues that are highlighted in the movies. These include educational curriculums, seminars and panel discussions.   His film “The Cove,” a documentary about the capture and slaughter of dolphins in the coastal town of Taiji in Japan, did about $1 million at the box office — but it garnered 1.8 million signatures on an online petition to end dolphin hunting.   Another Participant documentary film, “Countdown to Zero,” which warns of nuclear proliferation, earned just $300,000 in ticket receipts. But it was viewed by officials from the CIA to the Kremlin — President Barack Obama received a copy — just as the United States and Russia were negotiating the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which went into effect this year.   “We were told that many of the players who were involved with the New START treaty saw the movie and it actually helped get it passed,” he said.   Skoll, a graduate of Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, credits Silicon Valley’s relentless drive to change the world, with influencing his philanthropic direction.   “I had my philanthropic beginning in Silicon Valley,” he said. “It hearkens back to (Bill) Hewlett and (Dave) Packard and the long legacy of philanthropists in the valley who have done so much. The Community Foundation Silicon Valley (now called Silicon Valley Community Foundation) was incredibly important in helping me understand how philanthropy worked and what I could do.”   http://www.mercurynews.com/business/ci_18324810?nclick_check=1