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What Is Apple's Charitable Future?

The death of Steve Jobs has been an inescapable news story, leading to much speculation about the future of Apple. With Jobs at the helm, the company didn't make any large public efforts toward philanthropy. Will his death have any impact on the way the company approaches educational charity?

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By Sarah Wright

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Jobs' Legacy

News outlets and Apple fans are memorializing Steve Jobs as an innovative genius whose inventions made a significant impact on the world. But as with any story that gains a lot of traction on the Internet, the naysayers have come out in force, criticizing Jobs for fostering greed and exploitation during his tenure as Apple's CEO.

As usual, the reality is somewhere between the two. Yes, Jobs developed many innovative and important products, but he didn't prioritize accessibility with respect to price points, and Apple products are constructed in offshore factories that have been strongly criticized for their human rights violations. These two sets of facts are not mutually exclusive, and they don't diminish the cultural impact that Apple products have had. But now that Jobs' influence can no longer be felt, can we expect any changes in the way his company and family handle the huge income his innovations have generated?

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Apple and Education

One line of argument that Jobs' critics have latched onto is his less-than-stellar public record on charitable giving in any area, including education. Though he was a billionaire, no significant charitable activities can be attributed to him, despite the fact that his widow, Laurene Powell Jobs, is involved in a number of philanthropic efforts. His largest direct charitable effort was the Steven P. Jobs Foundation, a short-lived organization founded in 1987. Jobs hired a community affairs executive to oversee the foundation, but according to CNN Money's report, he seemed more interested in creating a logo for the company than actually making any serious efforts at social change.

Apple, too, has been criticized for its lack of charitable activities. When Jobs rejoined the company after a brief departure, all charitable programs at the company were halted. At the time, the company was in crisis and the cuts could easily be justified as a measure to save the business. But the programs weren't restored when the company rebounded. As we've noted in the past, Apple doesn't have much of a record in contributing to education, other than creating products that students can purchase to use to their benefit. In spite of this, though, Apple has recently introduced a donation-matching program with employees, due in part to criticism the company received when it was branded as one of 'America's Least Philanthropic Companies' by the Stanford Social Innovation Review. The program is not geared toward a specific area of charitable giving.

Apple's Charitable Future

Given the current political climate, Apple would be wise to engage in some sort of philanthropic effort. But at the same time, there's a cloud of uncertainty over the company. Jobs was the creative life force within his organization, and his absence has lead to plenty of speculation over whether Apple can continue to produce such innovative and popular products. Now may not be the best time to commit to giving a significant amount of money that might be available in a less successful future. Therefore, it remains to be seen whether Apple will make any significant giving efforts.

But Ms. Powell Jobs has engaged in philanthropic activities relating to education, and there's no reason to believe that she won't continue. As morbid and inappropriate as it may seem to consider, news outlets like the Wall Street Journal point out that Ms. Powell Jobs potentially stands to inherit a large sum of money. Though Steve Jobs' efforts seemed focused on technological innovation and development, it's possible that with his wife's guidance at least part of his financial legacy will be dedicated to improving education.

Are Apple computers good for students? If you're trying to decide between a Mac and a PC, we've got you covered.

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