How eBay's First Employee Jeffrey Skoll Is Saving the World

By on October 10, 2013 in ArticlesEntertainment

Because of Jeffrey Skoll, eBay's first employee and former company President, the residents of Gambia now have access to health care. Because of Jeffrey Skoll, deaths caused by water-borne illnesses in 700 Indian villages have declined by 85 percent. Because of Jeffrey Skoll, antiretroviral drugs are now available to thousands of HIV positive residents of Haiti. Because of Jeffrey Skoll, 6,000 African communities have declared an end to female genital cutting. What drives this commitment to improving the world? It was a simple phrase echoed often throughout the Jewish community that would ignite a lifelong philanthropic spark in Skoll: tikkun olam, meaning "to heal the world". This simple phrase inspired Skoll to devote his entire life, and the vast majority of his $4 billion personal fortune, to social entrepreneurism and philanthropy.

Jeffrey Skoll "Jeff" Skoll was born in 1965 into a middle-class Jewish family in Toronto. His mother was a teacher and his father owned an industrial chemical company. In 1987, Jeff graduated with honors from the University of Toronto's electrical engineering program and then spent several months backpacking around the world. Upon his return to Toronto, he founded Micros on the Move Ltd., a computer rental company. Unfortunately, his computers were routinely stolen, so Skoll scrapped that effort and instead founded Skoll Engineering, an information-technology consulting firm. In 1993, Skoll left Canada for Stanford Business School, where he received his MBA two years later. It was at Stanford that he was introduced by a mutual friend to Pierre Omidyar, who approached him about creating the online auction site we know today as eBay. Skoll initially declined the opportunity, but when Omidyar approached him again not long after and informed him that revenue was doubling each month, Skoll came on board as eBay's first employee and president.


Already a profitable company, eBay was experiencing such a fast rate of growth that Skoll had his work cut out for him. He took charge of the backend of operations and wrote the business plan that would launch eBay from a profitable start-up to one of the most lucrative businesses in the world. His efforts made Skoll a billionaire in just three years. In 1998, Meg Whitman replaced him as president and he was named Vice President of Strategic Planning and Analysis. Once eBay's second-largest stockholder, Skoll sold a portion of his company holdings, to the tune of $2 billion IN CASH.

eBay in 1998

eBay in 1998

It was around this time that Skoll realized he finally had the money to make an impact at changing the world. In 1999, the Skoll Foundation was created. That same year, a skiing injury left Skoll so badly injured he couldn't sit down, causing him to conduct business meetings lying across the conference room table. The back pain was a major factor in his decision to leave eBay to focus all his attention on his foundation.

Today, the Silicon Valley-based Skoll Foundation is one of the world's largest social entrepreneurship foundations dedicated to solving large-scale world issues by investing in, connecting, and celebrating similarly driven innovators. The foundation receives over 250 applicants per year and awards an average of four to six grants, which provide funding for three years. The Skoll Awards for Social Entrepreneurship, it's flagship program, supports 85 social entrepreneurs who are providing some of the neediest countries with much needed resources. The online community 'Social Edge' and the annual 'Skoll World Forum' on Social Entrepreneurship in Oxford help connect those individuals inspired to make a difference. To help improve business skills in social entrepreneurs, Skoll contributed $8 million to create the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at the University of Oxford, which allows five entrepreneurs each year to enroll in M.B.A. classes. Social entrepreneurs are celebrated through various media outlets such as The Sundance Institute, NPR, PBS, and the Skoll Awards Ceremony held at the Skoll World Forum each year.


In 2004, hoping to utilize the entertainment industry to bring social situations to light, Skoll created Participant Media. The already have an impressive track record of films meant to inspire social awareness and change. Some of Participant Media's successful films include The Help, Syriana, Contagion, An Inconvenient Truth, and Lincoln. Skoll has been Executive Producer on more than 39 films, which have altogether received an impressive five Academy Awards and 35 nominations.

In 2009 Skoll founded the Skoll Global Threats Fund, which focuses on five of the most serious global issues: climate change, access to drinking water, pandemics, nuclear weapons, and Middle East Conflicts.

At 48, and with a net worth of $4 billion, Skoll still has decades of philanthropy ahead of him and plenty more he wants to accomplish. He has been living in Beverly Hills for the last seven years, but moved back to Silicon Valley with his girlfriend, Stephanie, over the summer. He hopes to have children and wants to leave them some of his fortune, but not too much of it. In 2010 Bill Gates called and asked Skoll to sign the Giving Pledge, and Skoll easily said yes. "If I die today," he said, "everything goes to the foundations."

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