Jeff Skoll’s Billion-Dollar Plan To Save The World
Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Four years ago Jeff Skoll arrived via small plane in the depths of the Brazilian Amazon region, just in time for the Waura people’s festival of the pique fruit, where he sipped from a bucket of its bitter, bright-yellow brew. The eBay billionaire was there to see work being spearheaded by Mark Plotkin and Liliana Madrigal, whose nonprofit, Amazon Conservation Team, was teaching the scantily clad Waura to use a GPS to map their ancestral territory and carve out a protected area free from deforestation. “It’s the neatest thing,” says Skoll, his voice rising with enthusiasm. “It’s amazing to see these tribes that have barely been contacted, running around in war paint and living in mud huts, but with GPS they figure out how to go around on their land.”
Skoll was so pleased by the results of Plotkin and Madrigal’s efforts with the Waura and other tribes of the Amazon that last year his foundation gave $1.6 million to a project with Amazon Conservation Team and two other social enterprises that Skoll backs to use GPS and satellite mapping to create “conservation corridors” that will protect 114 million acres of the Amazon from deforestation. It’s a long-held goal for Plotkin and Madrigal, who have been working with indigenous tribes to protect the rain forest for nearly three decades. Skoll expects significant progress in three years.
There are thousands of people in the world like Plotkin and Madrigal, inspiring social entrepreneurs who dream up innovative solutions to pressing problems–poor education, lack of health care, deforestation–and then act on them. Jeff Skoll is their financier. As eBay’s first president, Skoll became a billionaire at age 33 shortly after the auction site went public in 1998. Like all good entrepreneurs, he was born with a knack for spotting the unmet need. Social entrepreneurs need money, media exposure and a network for collaboration.