Paul Allen leaves behind a philanthropic trail of inspiration

Paul Allen passed away this week at the age of 65, leaving behind an innovative legacy of creativity and charity. 

One of the earliest tech millionaires, Paul Allen left Microsoft (the company he co-founded with childhood friend Bill Gates) back in 1982, several years before a successful IPO would see their stock skyrocket. It was illness that promoted the move; Allen first battled cancer in his 30s.

It was in 1975 that Allen and Gates began developing an accessible computer language which would come to change the face of home computing in the ’80s and ’90s. A turbulent and dramatic period for Allen, he felt that he needed to experience what life had to offer outside of the office and, in a surprise move, left Microsoft to embark on a world tour.

“Very sad to hear of Paul Allen’s passing. His passion for invention and pushing forward inspired so many. He was relentless to the end. My heart goes out to Paul’s family and friends.” – Jeff Bezos – Amazon CEO

Travel, scuba diving and art filled the next few years of Allen’s life. He continued to invest and develop technological projects, but it was in the world of charity and philanthropy in which Allen found his true calling.

It is estimated that, throughout the course of his lifetime, Allen donated over $2 billion to various charitable organisations and projects. It was in areas such as climate change, the arts and disease studies where Allen focused his attention and funding. One of the primary areas of research and development, however, would be brain science, something for which he founded the Allen Institute of Brain Science. All of the Allen Institute studies are open source and accessible for all. This week, its President issued a statement to say goodbye to their founder:

“Paul’s vision and insight have been an inspiration to me and to many others both here at the Institute that bears his name, and in the myriad of other areas that made up the fantastic universe of his interests. He will be sorely missed. We honor his legacy today, and every day into the long future of the Allen Institute, by carrying out our mission of tackling the hard problems in bioscience and making a significant difference in our respective fields.” – Allan JonesPresident and CEO, Allen Institute

As Laura Rich of Wired noted, philanthropy culture is commonplace among tech billionaires; ‘Entrepreneurs today benefit from a culture of philanthropy that involves them in causes and activities outside of their day jobs. Salesforce’s Marc Benioff has spent billions in health care, as has Mark Zuckerberg, who plans to cure every disease within his young daughter’s lifetime. Bezos this year launched his own philanthropic venture.‘ Allen, however, was a trailblazer in this regard. A talented guitarist and The Experience Music Project (EMP) was established in 2000, thanks to a $100 million investment from Allen, but there were many more schemes, organisations and charitable ventures which benefitted from Allen’s immense generosity.

Highlighted in the The Verge: ‘Most recently, Allen donated $26 million to Washington State University to create the Paul G. Allen School of Global Animal Health, and he created a Tackle Ebola initiative with $100 million of funding to fight the disease.’

“damn…lost a friend we needed …Paul Allen …smart , decent man , ..good guitar player…funder of science …saver of elephants … A fine man.” – David Crosby – Musician

It was Forbes who posted one of the most touching and intimate portrayals of Allen as philanthropist. Alex Fang outlines how ‘A large part of his philanthropy was also about his vision for the future, and as such his contributions didn’t just come in the form of mere donations, but often in projects—institutes and initiatives created with a large goal and funded through his foundation and Vulcan Inc., the umbrella company that served as his vehicle for impact.’

Tributes have been pouring in for Allen this week. The most poignant being from his childhood friend:

“I am heartbroken by the passing of one of my oldest and dearest friends. Paul was a true partner and dear friend. Personal computing would not have existed without him.” – Bill Gates

Let us sign off with fond memories of an inventor, explorer and charitable soul; one who could play a mean guitar.

Paul Allen’s Charitable Donations (As listed by Forbes)

  • $500 million to Allen Institute for Brain Science
  • $240 million to found the Experience Music Project/Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame, now the Museum of Pop Culture
  • $125 million to found the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence
  • $100 million to found the Allen Institute for Cell Science
  • $100 million to found the Allen Frontiers Group
  • $100 million to fight Ebola
Colin J McCracken
Colin J McCracken

Director and Executive Editor

Colin J McCracken is an Irish editor and writer of both fiction and journalism. Coming from a background in education and film, his passions are split between the environmental and the entertaining. Constantly striving for a more sustainable existence and trying to balance it while simultaneously buying too many books.