Every two years, the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy is awarded to philanthropists who have shown outstanding and innovative leadership in strategic giving. Yesterday, Jeff Skoll was awarded this honor at the historic New York Public Library building in Midtown Manhattan. While Jeff was unable to attend, Sally Osberg, Skoll Foundation President and CEO, accepted the medal on his behalf. Past recipients include the Rockefeller and Gates families, and Michael Bloomberg. The Carnegie Medal is the highest recognition in philanthropy—a much deserved accolade for those who have dedicated their private wealth to the public good of working to solve the world’s most pressing problems. The following is an adaptation of her acceptance remarks.
When Jeff was just beginning his journey as philanthropist, he sought the advice of John Gardner, the visionary who served as adviser to five American Presidents and was one of the architects of Lyndon B. Johson’s “Great Society” programs. Gardner began his life’s work at the Carnegie Corporation, where he served for 19 years, 10 years as president. Like Carnegie Foundation’s own Vartan Gregorian, he was a great leader.
Much like Andrew Carnegie, Jeff was inspired as a youngster by the power of books and stories to illuminate important issues and spur social progress. He held on to that insight, so once he’d made his fortune with eBay, he saw his path. Jeff founded the Skoll Foundation not just to find and support social entrepreneurs driving change on poverty, disease, and injustice, but to make their stories known.
Ever the entrepreneur, he also launched Participant Media, dedicated to the idea that good storytelling can help us recognize and respond to the call to make things right—right here, right now—in our communities and around the world. Since I’ve been with him on his philanthropic journey since 2001, let me share a bit about the remarkable man I’ve come to know.
Jeff’s wit will put you at ease, but keep you on your toes. He’s humble, but hugely ambitious, for those big breakthroughs that can solve the world’s big problems. Finally, he’s way too smart not to be worried about the risks before us, but just as determined to keep fighting the good fight. He’s simply too entrepreneurial, too creative, and too inspired by all those John Gardner called “tough-minded optimists.”
Andrew Carnegie believed philanthropy’s main aim is to address the causes of social ills rather than their manifestations. Jeff and the constellation of organizations he created share that vision. Thanks to all of those whose work and whose stories will help bring about Jeff’s vision for a more peaceful, prosperous, and sustainable world—a truly good world to beckon us onward!