By Rachel Scanza, Ph.D.
In a move that sent shockwaves around the world, Yvon Chouinard, founder and owner of outdoor apparel company Patagonia relinquished ownership of the nearly $3 billion dollar enterprise, claiming “Earth is now our only shareholder.” With all of Patagonia’s voting stock transferred to the Patagonia Purpose Trust, approximately 2% of the company’s value, the remaining 98% now belongs to the nonprofit Holdfast Collective, an organization devoted to combatting climate change and preserving nature.
Over two decades ago, Jim and Virginia Stowers made a very similar move, dedicating nearly $2 billion dollars of their own fortune to create a world class medical research facility, The Stowers Institute for Medical Research. Simply put, both philanthropic families transferred nearly all their wealth for the betterment of humankind.
The Stowers’ fortune was born from the ingenuity of Jim Stowers and the success of the company he created in 1958, American Century Investments. After both Jim and his wife Virginia were diagnosed and survived bouts with cancer, the pair decided to create a nonprofit institution with the following mission: “To make a significant contribution to humanity through medical research by expanding our understanding of the secrets of life and by improving life’s quality through innovative approaches to the causes, treatment and prevention of diseases.”
“What Jim and Virginia Stowers envisioned is nothing short of extraordinary: they created an Institute that today is a veritable engine of discovery,” said Stowers Institute Executive Director and Chief Scientific Officer, Alejandro Sánchez Alvarado. “More importantly, Jim’s and Virginia’s gift is simultaneously an act of courage and optimism in the ability of our species to vanquish the unknown. Mine and our members’ responsibility is to be deserving of this gift.”
In a remarkably analogous step, Yvon Chouinard, his wife, and two children decided to establish the Holdfast Collective, a nonprofit organization through which Patagonia’s profits each year will be funneled and distributed for the benefit of our planet. The prescience connecting these two unprecedented charitable contributions invokes a sense of déjà vu.
For the Chouinards, whose motto was reinvented in 2018 to “We’re in business to save our home planet,” approximately $100 million dollars per year in profits will go toward mitigating climate change. For the Stowers,’ to ensure their mission would continue to be fulfilled long after their lives, they established a giving model where more than 40% of American Century profits are distributed to the Institute each year as dividends.
The Stowers were one of the pioneers in philanthropic giving and investing in humankind. Since opening its doors in 2000, the Institute has received over $1.8 billion in dividends, a nearly identical yearly sum to that anticipated from the Holdfast Collective.
Both families not only gave the amount required from signing the Giving Pledge—the commitment to bestow most of one’s fortune to charity—but essentially all their formerly billionaire statuses.
“By donating their fortune for the betterment of humankind, Jim and Virginia created a rare and precious opportunity for us to meaningfully contribute to our collective desire and effort to advance human knowledge,” said Sánchez Alvarado.
While Stowers’ scientists are tackling the foundations for how life works to improve life’s quality, the Chouinards are helping ensure that there will be a life worth improving.
Emblazoned on the stone pillar on the Stowers Institute’s campus is “Hope for Life,” a sentiment that resonates for the Stowers’ and the Chouinards’ philanthropy, insight, foresight, and, for lack of a better word, hope.