Robert F. Smith
Founder, Chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners
Entrepreneur, philanthropist and Fund II Foundation founding director and President, Robert F. Smith is a long-term supporter of the National Action Network (NAN). His support for the organization is rooted in his own passion for civil rights and the need for social justice. Smith’s support for the organization has included participating in panel discussions at NAN conferences and supporting NAN’s COVID relief efforts, as well as voter education events. Smith has received several honors from NAN and continues to be a leading voice for the betterment of civil rights and social justice.
Smith’s Connection With NAN
Smith, an avid supporter of social justice initiatives, was an honoree at two 2018 NAN events, highlighting the work of modern-day civil rights activists. He was honored as a civil rights leader at NAN’s 2018 Annual National Convention, along with rapper Common and Richelieu Dennis, founder of Essence, among others. The same year, Smith was also an honoree at NAN’s Keepers of the Dream awards, which are given to honorees who, according to the organization, “have continued to advocate for the principles that Dr. King gave his life for,” with advocating for civil rights being the main focus. Smith joined previous honorees, such as Samuel L. Jackson, John Legend and Gloria Steinem. In 2019, Smith participated in a panel discussion at the organization’s National Convention. At the convention, Smith discussed ways to stimulate the economy by driving capital into the hands of Black housing developers and asset managers. As a leading voice on racial justice, Smith’s current civil rights work includes advocating for underrepresented communities, criminal justice reform and supporting economic policies that would benefit minority individuals, families and business owners. Smith is a Founding Partner of REFORM Alliance, which works to reform the parole and probation systems throughout the United States. He is also Chairman of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, which works with local activists to ensure positive, long-term change in governments and corporations. In 2019 Smith made national headlines for his philanthropic donation to Morehouse College. Smith’s generous gift to Morehouse took the financial burden off the 2019 graduating class, who would now be able to enter the workforce debt-free. His commitment to helping Black students succeed and fulfill their career goals without the crushing burden of student loans falls in line with NAN’s goal of increasing diversity in the workforce. Smith’s gift would also inspire the graduates to pay it forward and give back to their communities. His contribution also became the catalyst for the Student Freedom Initiative, an income-contingent loan alternative.
Taking Action in Unprecedented Times
Smith continued to work towards positive change in 2020. In July 2020, Smith and World Central Kitchen helped support NAN’s “Operation Feed Harlem,” which provided meals for individuals in Harlem who were suffering from food insecurity as a result of COVID-19. This initiative served more than 900,000 meals to Harlem residents over the course of 84 days. Additionally, Smith spent much of 2020 advocating for the need for increased financial capital in Black communities, supporting initiatives that help Black business owners and incentivize banks to open local branches in minority neighborhoods. He has also participated in several events that highlight the need to help small, minority-owned businesses, sharing these key messages across his social channels. In the early summer of 2020, NAN Founder and President Rev. Al Sharpton played a key role in aligning Smith with Congress and the White House to advocate for changes to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Smith helped put together a special economic relief fund to set aside for small, minority-owned businesses, separate from the pool of money allocated for the PPP. An entrepreneur and philanthropist, Smith had launched a political and marketing effort to try to rescue as many of these companies amidst the COVID-19 crisis. With Voting Rights as one of the main pillars of NAN, the organization partnered with Be Woke.Vote, of which Smith is a funder and executive producer, leading up to the 2020 Presidential Election. NAN helped co-host voter education events along with the Conference of National Black Churches (CNBC), part of the “Rep Your City” tour. Through their support of the free events, NAN helped mobilize individuals ages 18-25 to vote. Smith and Sharpton also partnered with CNBC prior to the election, participating as key speakers in a virtually-held Voting Commitment Ecumenical Service. The event called on all Black voters to participate in the 2020 election.
About Robert F. Smith
Robert F. Smith is the Founder, Chairman and CEO of investment firm Vista Equity Partners. Smith’s passion for giving back began at a young age and was fueled by the actions of his parents, both educators. His mother brought him to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington when he was a baby and donated to the United Negro College Fund every month regardless of their family’s financial situation at the time. Much of Smith’s philanthropic work is rooted in his commitment to social justice and creating positive civil change, such as advocating for increased educational and internship opportunities for minority students.
Smith is the Chairman of Carnegie Hall, supporting the transformative power of music and advocates for expanding access to music and the arts to all. Committing to donate more than half of his wealth over the course of his lifetime, Smith signed the Giving Pledge in 2017. He was the first African American to do so. He earned an undergraduate degree in chemical engineering from Cornell University. In 2016, Cornell named its School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering after Smith, following individual contributions from Smith and the Fund II Foundation that resulted in a $50 million combined donation. Smith also has a longstanding connection with Columbia, where he received his MBA and serves on the school’s Board of Overseers.