Posted October, 10, 2011, by GEOFFREY A. FOWLER And JESSICA E. VASCELLARO

Steve Jobs spoke very little in public about philanthropy, and he didn’t participate in the “Giving Pledge,” a campaign led by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett to get billionaires to commit to giving away much of their wealth.

Now the spotlight turns to how the Apple Inc. co-founder’s wife, Laurene Powell Jobs, will manage the fortune she is likely to inherit. Some large donors in Silicon Valley say they don’t know if the couple made major donations behind the scenes. Through a spokeswoman, Ms. Powell Jobs, 47 years old, declined to be interviewed.

Steve Jobs’s wife, Laurene Powell Jobs, has been quiet about her charity causes, but she is expected to continue backing education reform and women’s issues. Geoffrey Fowler reports on digits.

But Ms. Powell Jobs’s activities paint a picture of a family deeply involved in supporting education reform, women’s issues and other philanthropic causes, as well as Democratic Party candidates and issues.

“She is very much of the school of ‘to whom much is given, much is expected,'” says Carlos Watson, who co-founded an educational reform organization called College Track with her in 1997. “She is focused on ways to expand opportunity.”

Steve Jobs and wife Laurene Powell Jobs at the Oscars in 2010. Getty images

Ms. Powell Jobs has become a leader in education policy, advising nonprofits and politicians, says Ted Mitchell, chief executive of NewSchools Venture Fund, whose board Ms. Powell Jobs joined five years ago. The Jobs family has donated millions of dollars to the group, he says, and her work “is even more effective because she does this work quietly, constantly, with incredible integrity and great insight.”

Ms. Powell Jobs worked at Merrill Lynch Asset Management and Goldman Sachs in the late 1980s. She met her husband while she was earning an M.B.A. at Stanford University. They married in 1991 and had three children, Eve, Erin and Reed. She also founded a natural-foods company called Terravera.

Ms. Powell Jobs’s charitable activities date back at least to the mid-1990s, when she mentored high-school students in East Palo Alto, Calif. In 1997, she co-founded the nonprofit College Track, which helps low-income students prepare for college through intensive academic and extra-curricular programs.

Founding and running College Track involved “significant” financial donations from the Jobs family, according to a person familiar with the organization.

Ms. Powell Jobs thought “this is important enough that I am not going to just write a check—I am going to build with my own hands an infrastructure that can help students go to college,” Mr. Watson says. The program has trained more than 1,000 students, he says, 90% of whom went on to a four-year college.

Ms. Powell Jobs often catches College Track’s students, who are largely African American and Latino, off guard. “They think, ‘you don’t know my story,'” Mr. Watson says. But through one-on-one interaction—sometimes dozens of sessions at her or the student’s home—she has proved her ability to connect, he says.

Wendy Kopp, the founder and CEO of Teach For America, says she remembers Ms. Powell Jobs standing out at a visit to a California school three years ago. “It is very rare to find someone who is not one of our most senior staff members who can walk into a classroom and pick up on what she noticed. Her level of standards and questions all revealed such genuine commitment to the idea that all kids have the chance for an excellent education.”

Ms. Powell Jobs still serves as president of College Track’s board and has joined the boards of Teach for America, NewSchools Venture Fund, Stand for Children, New America Foundation and Conservation International. She is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

More recently, Ms. Powell Jobs set up a broader philanthropic organization called the Emerson Collective. According to her official biography, it “works with a range of entrepreneurs to advance domestic and international social reform efforts.”

A person familiar with Emerson says its name is based on Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay “Self-Reliance,” and the organization believes in “empowering the individual by giving them tools to live a productive life.”

Ms. Powell Jobs has made public appearances in recent years at the Clinton Global Initiative. She conducted an on-stage interview with actor Ben Affleck in April at a meeting of the Global Philanthropy Forum about his work founding the Eastern Congo Initiative. The two traveled to the Congo last year, and she invested in the Initiative.

In recent years, public records indicate, Ms. Powell Jobs made political donations to Democratic causes, including $200,000 in 2010 to a group called Californians for Clean Energy and Jobs, which was fighting a voter initiative that sought to delay a law regulating greenhouse emissions.

Ms. Powell Jobs’s charity work has occasionally overlapped with Apple’s. This past spring, Apple set up a program to collect first-generation iPads from consumers who were upgrading to the iPad 2 and donate them to Teach for America corps members. Apple dedicated space to the campaign in its store windows and was able to offer iPads to more than 9,000 teachers.

— Rob Guth contributed to this article.


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