Trust Magazine

A Vision for Lasting Philanthropy

The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, in partnership with Pew and on its own, seeks to conserve ecosystems for future generations

While many people have heard of “Moore’s Law,” which essentially states that the amount of raw computing power on a microchip will double every two years, fewer may be familiar with the man who came up with the original observation. Gordon Moore, a co-founder and former chairman emeritus of the Intel Corp., made that prediction in 1965, and his forecast for the pace of growth in technology would effectively become the model for the entire industry. The law has held true over more than half a century as it helped to drive an electronics revolution that produced increasingly faster, smarter, more powerful, and affordable products, from cellphones and computers to microwaves, thermostats, GPS tracking devices, and much more. In 2002, Moore received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from George W. Bush, who credited him with helping to “create our age of information.”

Gordon and Betty Moore sit on a bench at San Francisco’s Presidio in 2001 during one of the first all-staff meetings of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.
Susanna Frohman San Jose Mercury News

Yet a look back on Moore’s childhood shows that it began quietly, with hidden clues that he would grow up to help change the world with technology. As an introverted child living in Pescadero, California, located halfway between San Francisco and Santa Cruz, he enjoyed spending time in nature, especially around nearby Pescadero Creek, where he developed a lifelong love of fishing. He was introduced to chemistry when a neighbor’s son was given a chemistry set—with the two boys soon spending hours blowing things up. Hooked on science, he would go on to pursue a degree in chemistry, first at San Jose State University, where he would meet a journalism student named Betty Whitaker who would become his wife, and then at the University of California, Berkeley. He later earned a Ph.D. in chemistry, with a minor in physics, from the California Institute of Technology. 

The great success of Gordon’s scientific career at Fairchild Semiconductor Laboratory and at Intel led the Moores, who married in 1950, to launch the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation in 2000, which, according to its website, aims to tackle “large, important issues at a scale where it can achieve significant and measurable impacts.” The foundation also hopes to enact long-lasting change—the type that will touch many generations into the future. In 2012, the Moores also signed the Giving Pledge, a commitment by many of the world’s wealthiest individuals to give away the majority of their fortunes to philanthropic causes.

The foundation focuses on four areas: science, environmental conservation, patient care, and the San Francisco Bay Area, and each holds a personal interest for Betty or Gordon.

Having spent most of their lives around San Francisco Bay—Gordon’s family arrived in the state before the California Gold Rush, and Betty grew up on a fruit-and-nut ranch in the area that today is Silicon Valley—the couple became concerned with changes they were seeing happening around them over time, and so dedicated an arm of their foundation to conserving and enhancing the Bay Area’s special character so that future generations might enjoy it the way that they have. Patient care became a passion of Betty’s through her own experiences as both a patient and a caregiver, and a recognition of the importance of registered nurses.  And science and the environment—well, those connections run deep.

Science, of course, framed Gordon’s long and storied career, and scientific inquiry underpins virtually all of the foundation’s work. “We believe in the inherent value of science and treasure the child-like sense of wonder that comes from finding out how the world works,” according to the foundation’s mission statement. 

The couple’s science philanthropy began in earnest when they realized that the federal government was cutting back on basic scientific research—which they viewed as critical to other types of discovery—in the early 2000s. They felt this was an area where they could make an important difference and have since supported scores of projects including adaptive optics, which removes atmospheric distortion to create sharper images of space; the Event Horizon Telescope, which photographed a black hole for the first time; and SeaHawk, a nanosatellite that will provide unique new views on the ocean’s surface. Higher education, with its strong emphasis on fundamental science, has been another area of support.

Although the seed for Gordon’s appreciation for the natural environment was planted in childhood, its roots grew deeper as he, Betty, and their young family spent time hiking, fishing, and enjoying other outdoor activities. Seeing natural environments begin to change would become a call to action. “We used to spend most of our vacations off in remote areas fishing, and it would be essentially jungle right up to the water’s edge,” Gordon explained in a 2015 interview. “Then we’d come back five years later and could see these remote places becoming high-rise hotels and golf courses. And that was something we thought that we could influence a bit.”

The foundation’s conservation work has touched many projects related to oceans and marine life, and has especially focused on improving the management of coastal ecosystems and reducing overfishing, an area where it first intersected with The Pew Charitable Trusts when both organizations helped to support the early years of Oceana. The international organization, launched in 2001, is dedicated to protecting and restoring the ocean on a global scale and achieving measurable change through specific, science-based campaigns with articulated goals and fixed deadlines. The foundation and Pew share that data-driven approach, along with focusing on big-picture issues and creating lasting change. This synergy was the basis for the Moore Foundation’s support for Pew’s international boreal conservation campaign, with its focus on efforts to protect globally important ecosystems while conserving salmon watersheds and strengthening the influence of First Nations and other communities in conservation decisions.

For the Moore Foundation, working with Pew has been a logical fit. “We believe that evidence and the types of rigorous inquiry that guide scientific exploration are key to achieving the outcomes we seek, which is why Pew is so well positioned as a partner,” says Moore Foundation President Harvey Fineberg. “Pew’s in-depth research and evidence-based approach to creating enduring change—particularly around safeguarding critical ecosystems and biodiversity—complement our desire to secure measurable and lasting gains for conservation.”

Conserving ecosystem integrity was also behind the Moore Foundation’s support of an innovative conservation model launched in Brazil’s Amazon in 2002 called Amazon Region Protected Areas, or ARPA, which today has become the largest tropical conservation project in history, protecting an area over four times the size of California. Known as a “project finance for permanence,” it leverages a patchwork of funding with a Wall Street mindset around investments to secure the long-term conservation of critical areas—in the Amazon, this represents a place that helps stabilize the Earth’s climate, harbors 1 in 10 known species, and is home to 30 million people. Such big-picture thinking illustrates the scale on which the foundation hopes to make a long-term difference for future generations.

“Gordon and Betty Moore long ago recognized the importance of healthy and resilient ecosystems for our planet,” says Tom Dillon, a senior vice president who oversees Pew’s environment portfolio. “They have worked extensively to protect these resources so that they may sustain both nature and people, and provide food, economic opportunities, and recreation for generations to come—including in visionary work in the Amazon. We are grateful to have had their support in protecting the health of North America’s intertwined boreal forests and salmon ecosystems and look forward to continuing to work with them on lasting change. And we greatly appreciate their far-reaching leadership in championing a healthy ocean and host of natural environments around the globe.”

For more information about philanthropic partnerships at Pew, please contact senior director Laura Lambert at 202-540-6598 or [email protected]

Demetra Aposporos is the senior editor of Trust.

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