News and analysis
October 23, 2014

Paul Allen Commits $100-Million to Fighting Ebola

Will Ragozzino/BFAnyc/Sipa USA/Newscom

Paul Allen

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen has committed $100-million to fight an Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the largest private donation to date amid the international health crisis.

The sum includes $26.5-million in pledges that Mr. Allen and the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation have already made public, including $9-million to the Centers for Disease Control’s foundation, $3.6-million to the U.S. Fund for Unicef, and $2.8-million for the American Red Cross. The majority of the $100-million will come from existing Paul G. Allen Family Foundation funds and the balance out of Mr. Allen’s pocket.

In a statement, Mr. Allen described the Ebola outbreak, which has sickened 5,481 and killed 4,555, mostly in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, as unlike anything seen before.

"To effectively contain this outbreak and prevent it from becoming a global epidemic, we must pool our efforts to raise the funds, coordinate the resources, and develop the creative solutions needed to combat this problem," Mr. Allen said." I am committed to doing my part in tackling this crisis."

Some of the $100-million will fund the development and manufacturing of two medevac containment units to be used by the U.S. State Department to safely extract medical workers from affected areas and expand the logistical capacity of the World Health Organization to transport international aid workers. Another $2.5-million will serve as the seed money for a newly created Ebola Medevac Fund to help further with transport costs. The fund will be administered by the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

"We know there are NGOs who want to send their health-care workers to West Africa, but we want to make sure they have the assurance of safe passage home in case they become infected," Dune Ives, senior director of philanthropic initiatives at the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, said in an interview with The Chronicle.

An undisclosed amount will go to the University of Massachusetts Medical School to fund medical workers, training, and lab equipment.

Mr. Allen has also established a donation platform, tackleebola.com, to spur individual giving. Funds raised there will go to "treat, contain, and prevent the spread of Ebola," according to the statement. Within two hours of Mr. Allen’s announcement, its related Twitter handle, @TackleEbola, had 2,200 followers.

In a speech at the United Nations in New York City in September, President Obama called on philanthropists to do more in the fight against Ebola.

"More foundations can tap into the networks of support that they have to raise funds and awareness," he said.

And after a slow start, the private philanthropic response to the Ebola outbreak seems to be gaining traction. In addition to the $100-million pledge from Mr. Allen, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has committed $50-milion to United Nations agencies and international aid groups. Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan pledged $25-million to the CDC Foundation. The Hospital Corporation of America gave $1-million to the CDC Foundation. And Pierre and Pam Omidyar donated $250,000 to the Ebola Crisis Fund, created in August by Capital for Good and managed by Geneva Global.

Still, more resources are required to contain the outbreak, according to international health experts. Unicef, for example, says it needs $200-million to effectively respond. So far, the U.S. Fund for Unicef has raised $12.1-million from individuals, foundations, corporations, and charities in the United States, according to spokesperson Susannah Masur.

Tracking Ebola

In 2009, the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation funded a project at Kansas State University to develop an Ebola vaccine for wild apes. The vaccine was never tested for human use. Mr. Allen has been tracking the current Ebola outbreak almost since it began in Guinea in March, Ms. Ives said. And he began to seriously consider how he might respond in July.

"Last week, when we took a look at our strategy for giving and the number of opportunities we were seeing, we literally sat back and said, ‘Wow, we are up to about $100-million,’" Ms. Ives said.

The international response hasn’t been as robust as the foundation had hoped, she says.

"To hit the tipping point that we know we need to hit based on the CDC numbers, we need to be moving a lot more quickly," Ms. Ives said.

The $100-million gift was every bit a clarion call, she said.

"We decided to come out with the announcement about what the commitment looks like," she said, "and to talk about some of the unique ways we are giving as a way to inspire others to get more involved."

Send an e-mail to Megan O’Neil.