Preventing L.A.’s Tech Scene From Repeating Silicon Valley’s Philanthropic Mistakes

As L.A.’s startup scene continues to grow, a new initiative is trying to help them give their money to organizations close to home and give back to the city that’s supported their growth.

Preventing L.A.’s Tech Scene From Repeating Silicon Valley’s Philanthropic Mistakes
[Photo: Austin Lee via Unsplash] [Photo: Austin Lee via Unsplash]

L.A.’s new tech titans are poised to address a philanthropic problem that Silicon Valley luminaries have yet to solve. Earlier this month, the Annenberg Foundation, $1.5 billion organization, announced the creation of AnnenbergTech, a division to help booming companies like Snap, Riot Games, and Headspace, and investors like Upfront Ventures figure out new ways to both interact with local nonprofits and improve community well being.


That’s different than what’s been happening in San Francisco, where many of the world’s wealthiest entrepreneurs are still giving to important issues but appear to be ignoring nearby community groups completely, according to a report by Open Impact, a social change advisory. While Mark Zuckerberg has intimated that he may a desire to solve the affordable housing crisis that his company and others have helped fuel, that hasn’t happened yet.

Annenberg, which was founded by Walter Annenberg after he sold Triangle Publications, a magazine but also TV and radio station company, wants to go the other way. “By nearly every measure, Los Angeles’ new tech ecosystem will continue to have a profound effect on our city,” President and CEO Wallis Annenberg said in a press release. “The leaders of these companies today are our philanthropists of tomorrow, and we hope AnnenbergTech can serve as a hub for this next generation to convene and create new models of civic leadership that will lift up and inspire all Angelenos.”

[Photo: Austin Lee via Unsplash]

This local focus has become a hallmark of the organization in recent years, including the creation of LA n Sync, an initiative that helps the local government, businesses, and nonprofits plan improvement projects that will attract more federal funding. They’ve also launched a program to help nonprofits grow more quickly and effectively.

AnnenbergTech will operate differently: Both nonprofits and rich tech workers first have to learn how the other works. To that end, it has developed a six-month program to help nonprofits think more about how to integrate technologies that can improve program efficiency, management and communication into their everyday practices. (A foundation survey last year showed that over half of nonprofits in the area felt they didn’t have the staff and technical know-how to modernize their work.) Tech giants will receive a similar introduction. It’s a leadership series geared toward connecting leaders with the other philanthropy-tech players who have already been successful at re-thinking how to act more charitably.

As they achieve those learning curves the hope is that there will be more synergy. So Annenberg is funding a specifically tech-centric branch of grants through LA2050, a program that awards funds to organizations with ideas that can dramatically improve the city’s sense of community and quality of life. (Those will cap at $250,000 total.)

Meanwhile, the group is working with Annenberg’s existing educational division and New York-based Games For Change, to launch a video game design program in schools, with themes around how to gamify the city’s social good. That may help the community itself find solutions to some systemic problems. In the long run, though, it’s a great way to make sure the next generation of tech moguls is already thinking about how to make more social change.


Correction: This article originally stated that the program would award grants that capped at $250,000 each, but $250,000 is the total of all the grants.

About the author

Ben Paynter is a senior writer at Fast Company covering social impact, the future of philanthropy, and innovative food companies. His work has appeared in Wired, Bloomberg Businessweek, and the New York Times, among other places.