Noted philanthropist Robert F. Smith is an avid supporter of the Prostate Cancer Foundation (PCF). His contributions have helped pave the way for research and development into better ways of detecting prostate cancer earlier, especially in African American men, and have helped to fund treatment centers like the Robert Frederick Smith Precision Oncology Center of Excellence at the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center in Chicago and the Mount Sinai Robert F. Smith Mobile Prostate Cancer Screening at Mount Sinai Health System in New York CIty.
Learn more about Smith’s support of the PCF and his other philanthropic efforts.
Engineer and Entrepreneur
Smith earned a degree in Chemical Engineering from Cornell University in 1985. After several years working for companies like Goodyear and Kraft, where he earned several patents, he received an MBA from Columbia Business School, and then went on to work for Goldman Sachs. Focusing on tech mergers and acquisitions, Smith eventually moved to San Francisco and created Vista Equity Partners to focus solely on investing in enterprise software, data and technology-enabled companies. Today serves as the firm’s global investment firm’s Founder, CEO and Chairman and directs Vista’s investment strategy and decisions, governance and investor relations.
Throughout his career as an engineer and entrepreneur, Smith has remembered the lessons taught to him by his parents about engaging with the community and contributing to causes that help others. These values have driven his support of the PCF and other organizations like it.
Smith Polygenic Risk Test for Prostate Cancer
In July 2020, Smith and the PCF announced a new effort to develop a genetics-based test for early detection of prostate cancer. The test is expected to be especially helpful in detecting early-stage disease in African American men, who are at the highest risk of developing prostate cancer compared to any other race or ethnicity. In fact, in a paper published in Nature Genetics Journal (January, 2021) research shows that men of African ancestry are twice as likely to inherit a prostate cancer risk compared to men of European ancestry. This evidence will contribute to the next step in efforts to employ early detection precision medicine to save lives.
Smith stated in the July 2020 announcement that gaining knowledge about African American men’s “risk profile and applying this knowledge earlier with strategic detection, care, and decisions about cancer risk management is of utmost importance to address health inequity in the U.S.” The goal is to keep the test cost affordable and accessible to all men, and it will be available through the PCF’s Center of Excellence network at Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers around the country.
The Robert Frederick Smith Precision Oncology COE
In 2018, Smith made the largest donation ever in support of prostate cancer research aimed at helping African American men. His $2.5 million gift led to the establishment of the Robert Frederick Smith Precision Oncology Center of Excellence in Chicago, located at the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center.
The gift targets care specifically for African American men, who are more vulnerable to prostate cancer and often underserved in regards to medical care. Announced on Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, Smith took the opportunity to recognize Dr. King’s “message of service and of equality” while stating his desire to “do right by those brave veterans who serve our country, and…change the odds for millions of African American men who should be surviving prostate cancer.”
Promoting Medicine, Science, Education and the Arts
Smith is a regular supporter of causes and organizations focused on health, science and engineering, educational programs and cultural and artistic programs. In fact, he was the first African American to sign the Giving Pledge, in which he promised to give away majority of his wealth during his lifetime. He is also the founding director and President of the Fund II Foundation, which supports programs that aim to redress social, racial and economic inequalities and improve the lives of the most vulnerable. In 2019, he paid off the student loans of the entire graduating class of Morehouse College, as well as those held by their parents, challenging alumni and supporters to do the same for future classes. His extraordinary gift helped to inspire Student Freedom Initiative, which serves as a catalyst to help students acquire pathways after graduation.
Some of the other organizations he supports include:
- Carnegie Hall Board of Trustees (Chairman)
- Cornell Engineering College Council (Member)
- Columbia Business School Board of Overseers (Member)
- REFORM Alliance (Founding Partner)
- National Museum of African American History and Culture (Advisory Board Member)
Robert F. Smith has also provided significant support to the UNCF, Eagle Academies ,the Jackie Robinson Foundation, internXL and Susan G. Komen, among others. Smith’s philanthropic work has led to numerous recognitions, including the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy, the Humanitarian of the Year Award from the Robert Toigo Foundation, the Ripple of Hope Award from Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, and the Philanthropy in the Arts award form the Americans for the Arts.