Brother Robert F. Smith Brings Success Back Home

It’s impossible to imagine that you haven’t heard about Brother Robert F. Smith, the tech entrepreneur and philanthropist, who stepped into history during his 2019 Morehouse College commencement speech, when he freed the class of 400 from student loan debt.

Smith founded Vista Equity Partners in 2000. Now the company, for which he stands as Chairman and CEO, is one of the largest private investment companies of its kind. And, as Smith’s platform has grown, so too have his commitments to African American communities.

Smith’s generosity, beyond the scope of his wealth, extends to time spent sharing insights and experience with young professionals and students seeking their piece of the American dream. Whether it’s dropping knowledge during an ELEVATE conference at Columbia Business School, where Smith got his MBA, or giving a heads up about the future of tech at an Executive Leadership Conference, Smith is focused on helping communities build self-sustaining infrastructures to aid the growth of Black business and leadership nation-wide.

Like many Alpha Phi Alpha Brothers, Smith reached out to Civil Rights activists and business leaders following the murder of George Floyd with messages of solidarity. Smith also offered action items at that inflection point to turn the collective outrage into community advancement with his 2% solution and advocacy for boardroom diversity. Smith believes this is a way to close, permanently, racial wealth gaps and the systemic removal of goods and services from the Black community.

Alpha Phi Alpha’s Influence on Robert F. Smith’s Philanthropy

Smith attributes much of his philanthropic philosophy to his family and to the Alpha Phi Alpha commitment to community empowerment. In 2017, Smith was the first Black American to sign the Giving Pledge, and by doing so agreed to utilize half of his net worth for initiatives providing equal opportunity for underrepresented people and environmental conservation. Influenced by his father and Brothers, Smith has served as a trustee for the Boys and Girls Clubs of San Francisco since 2008.

Smith innovates pathways for the future of Black success in America. And his vision forward includes taking good care of our precious history, as well. Brother Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s homes are now in the care of the National Park Foundation so our children’s children can step inside history, due to a grant from the Fund II Foundation, a nonprofit for which Smith serves as founding director and President. The stories of our people are being digitally recorded and preserved at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, due to a grant from Smith, who believes this living tribute will not only enrich education but contribute to new curatorial studies.

Smith has said that economic success over the next decade will be tied to careers related to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). To ensure African American communities take part in the next cycle of wealth generation, Smith made $10 million available at Cornell University, his alma mater, for scholarships to support African American and female students pursuing technology-related degrees. Most recently, Smith gave a $50 million matching gift to help launch the Student Freedom Initiative (SFI), the capstone to his Morehouse gift, which is intended to free the creativity and power of a new generation of leaders.

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