Elon Musk, the chief executive officer of Tesla, has donated more than $250 million to the Musk Foundation over course of his career. As a signatory of The Giving Pledge, he has promised to give away the majority of his fortune during his lifetime, but he’s not waiting until later to begin making an impact. In recent years, Musk has donated considerably to build infrastructure in Puerto Rico, respond to the Flint water crisis, and support other causes. Even in his work, Musk takes an altruistic approach that emphasizes the need to shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy, as evidenced by Tesla’s electric vehicles and solar power technologies. He is also involved with companies working to make it possible to live on other planets and create underground rapid transit easily and cheaply.
Intervening in Puerto Rico in the Wake of Hurricane Maria
When Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in 2017, the governor of the island reached out to Elon Musk on Twitter to discuss the possibility of Tesla stepping in to help restore power. Without energy, Puerto Rico basically shut down, as schools and hospitals closed, food spoiled without refrigeration, and water treatment facilities became unable to provide safe drinking water. Musk initially donated $250,000 to the cause and shipped hundreds of Powerwall rechargeable batteries to people in need. Within a short period of time, he had helped to return power to the largest children’s hospital in Puerto Rico with the use of the batteries and solar technology. To achieve this, Musk and Tesla had to bypass the power grid on the island. Similar projects were undertaken at water stations, sanitation plants, and other key infrastructure.
In total, Tesla has shipped more than 1,000 battery packs to the island that are supporting the power needs of more than 660 buildings. These packs link to solar arrays and hold 550 kilowatt-hours of power each. Musk’s intervention has given momentum to a new initiative in Puerto Rico to move away from fossil fuels and adopt greener technology. The mayor of San Juan recently outlined a new vision for self-reliance using clean energy that will help the island thrive in years to come.
Responding to the Clean Water Crisis in Flint, Michigan
The nation was shocked to find that lead and other toxins had been tainting the water supply in Flint, Michigan, leaving many children and adults sick. The community there has continued to struggle in the wake of this contamination crisis, and Musk recently addressed the problem in late 2018, when he donated nearly half a million dollars to install new water fountains with built-in filtration systems in Flint schools. These fountains use UV water purification to remove any traces of lead and bacteria in the water, so that students can drink and fill their water bottles without worrying about their health. Four years after the initial crisis, students have still not returned to normalcy, but Musk’s contribution helps move in that direction. In addition, he has promised to pay for repairs to water filtration systems in Flint homes that still test positive for contamination.
More recently, the Musk Foundation announced that it was donating more than $420,000 to Flint Community Schools to purchase laptops for all seventh- and eighth-grade students in the district. This move will help ensure that all students have access to a computer for homework and increase their opportunities later in life by driving computer literacy.
Spearheading Other Philanthropic Causes Around the World
According to the Musk Foundation website, the organization is focused primarily on renewable energy, human space exploration, pediatric research, and education. To hit the fourth item on this list, Musk has contributed $15 million to a program organized through XPRIZE called Global Learning. This program is a contest that challenges teams from anywhere in the world to develop open-source software that can be easily scaled. The software should help children in developing countries teach themselves basic reading, writing, and mathematics skills in a short period of time. Globally, about 250 million children lack these basic skills, and this knowledge gap presents serious obstacles for developing nations.
When Global Learning launched in 2014, 700 teams joined the competition. In 2017, the top five concepts were deployed in 141 villages in Tanzania. The team that achieves the best results at the end of 15 months will be the winner.
The Musk Foundation also funds some politically active organizations, such as the Cato Institute, a libertarian think-tank. Other organizations that he supports work under a progressive agenda, such as the Sierra Club Foundation, National Wildlife Foundation, Energy Foundation, and Global Green USA. In addition, Musk has personally provided support to groups aligned with both Democrats and Republicans, especially in terms of preventing climate change. Identified as an independent, Musk has a progressive worldview but a pragmatic approach to how things need to get done. By donating to organizations on both sides of the political spectrum, he keeps the conversation going.