James Higa, Former Senior Director of Apple, Joins Philanthropic Ventures Foundation as Executive Director

 In PVF news

James Higa, former Senior Director in the Office of the CEO at Apple Inc., has joined Philanthropic Ventures Foundation as the new Executive Director – marking the first change in leadership since PVF was founded by pioneering philanthropist Bill Somerville in 1991.

Mr. Higa will assume responsibility for Grantmaking and Special Initiatives at the PVF headquarters in Oakland, CA. His initial efforts will focus on the foundation’s ability to respond rapidly to urgent needs (often within 24 hours), create imaginative strategies to address deeply-rooted problems, and partner with grassroots leaders in low-income communities to advance economic equity and social justice.

“We’re thrilled to welcome James to PVF,” said Board Chair Duncan Beardsley.  “His achievements at Apple date back to the original Macintosh team. He worked alongside Steve Jobs for nearly three decades, including helping to negotiate the landmark iTunes agreements with the five major and 400+ independent record labels. His vision and energy has led to iTunes University with over 800 schools, such as Stanford, Yale, MIT, and the University of Edinburgh, now making available over 500,000 free lectures, videos, books, and other resources so that anyone in the world including those with no opportunity of attending a university can now download and learn from the very best teachers there are.”

“James helped start Apple Japan,” said PVF Board Member, US Congresswoman Jackie Speier (12th District), “where he recruited the brightest women graduates from top Japanese universities to manage projects and lead teams – a trailblazing development in Japan’s business culture.  He was a member of the Unicode working group that established the universal character-encoding system used by practically every computer and software company today. Unicode is why people around the world can use any computer no matter what language, what software program, or what website.  James’ penchant for innovation with a global reach, combined with a profound concern for improving the prospects for poor people at home and abroad, makes for a perfect fit with Philanthropic Ventures Foundation.”

For the past 21 years, PVF has earned a reputation for its speed, flexibility, and commitment to grantmaking that aims to address issues of poverty and injustice often overlooked in conventional philanthropy.  Regan E. Ralph, Executive Director of the Fund for Global Human Rights, credits the foundation with “helping us to deliver resources to the heroes of the human rights movement in countries around the world.”

PVF’s fast-moving, unconventional approach in grantmaking is based on five principles:

  • Find and collaborate with outstanding individuals doing important work
  • Move quickly and avoid paper-laden bureaucracy
  • Embrace risk in pursuit of real change
  • Focus on ideas rather than problems
  • Take initiative – while striving to make philanthropy more effective, exciting (and even fun)

Bill Somerville will continue at PVF’s as President and CEO working in tandem with Higa on grantmaking and developing the assets of the foundation.  Somerville has consulted at more than 400 grantmaking institutions in the U.S., Canada, and United Kingdom. Bill is the author of Grassroots Philanthropy:  Field Notes of a Maverick Funder, a seminal work in American grantsmanship.

Alice Waters, Founder and Director of the Chez Panisse Foundation, credits PVF founder Bill Somerville with “inspiring my community work in ingenious and provocative ways.” “Bill Somerville tells the truth, even to those who don’t want to hear it,” said Jan Masaoka, CEO of California Association of Nonprofits.  “He represents hope and practicality.  He’s been a personal inspiration to me and countless others.”

“This is the right change at the right time,” said Bill Somerville.  “I’m looking forward to working with James, and building even better philanthropy for our community, our nation, and perhaps even the world.”

“I have spent my career striving to think different and change the world through technology,” said Mr. Higa.  “I want to carry on that work at PVF now through people and communities.”

For more information, please contact Philanthropic Ventures Foundation at (510) 645-1890.

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