Helping Those Left Behind by the Tech Boom (Silicon Valley)

  • Local Projects
  • 2017

While the computer revolution has turned Silicon Valley into a boomtown, it has also made that region into one of the most expensive places in the country to live, squeezing many local families. And the local foundations built on tech fortunes give only about 7 percent of their funds to charities in their own San Jose/Palo Alto/Santa Clara/San Mateo area. But real-estate developer John Sobrato, who became rich creating campuses for Apple, Yahoo, and other firms, is giving away money with a strong focus on helping local residents left behind by the tech expansion.

Expanding schools and teaching programs that help the area’s Spanish-speaking children has been one major emphasis. The Sobrato family founded a Cristo Rey Catholic high school, supported numerous other schools, and developed a new way of teaching English to non-native speakers that has now spread to 39,000 students.

The Sobratos have also built up office complexes in San Jose, Redwood City, and Milpitas where about 70 charities are provided with free headquarters space. This allows them to avoid the notoriously high rents in the region. It also gives them a proximity to learn from each other and collaborate on projects.

The family has made multi-million-dollar gifts to the local children’s hospital and the Valley Medical Center, and to the National Hispanic University and the Jesuit-run University of San Francisco. In 2017 they announced their largest gift ever: $100 million to Santa Clara University to allow it to unify and strengthen its science and math training for students. That ranked as the second-largest gift ever to a Catholic college. It brought the family’s total charitable contributions to about $380 million over the last 20 years. And six months later the Sobrato gift was bolstered by an additional $30 million from the Leavey Foundation (big supporters of Catholic causes, education, and medicine) for Santa Clara University’s expansion into science and math.