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Forbes released its list of the 400 richest Americans earlier this month, and nearly all of them have seen significant gains in net worth since the start of the pandemic. More than most, Nvidia co-founder and CEO Jensen Huang embodies that phenomenon, scoring dizzying gains on top of an already sizable fortune.

Worth “only” $4.2 billion two years ago, Huang now commands assets totaling nearly $21 billion as of time of writing. That puts him in the same ballpark as more well-known Silicon Valley billionaires like Laurene Powell Jobs, Eric Schmidt and Dustin Moskovitz. But unlike many of them, Huang’s philanthropy is still in a nascent stage, concentrated on alma mater giving and other higher ed gifts, along with support for various Bay Area institutions.

Huang is 58 and still very much involved in Nvidia’s day-to-day business. Traditionally, that might indicate a long runway for any major philanthropy from him and his wife Lori Huang. But attitudes are changing among some tech givers as the up-tempo, fewer-strings-attached approach of MacKenzie Scott and Jack Dorsey develops on the give-while-young mentality of Mark Zuckerberg, Dustin Moskovitz and others.

Nvidia may not be at the level of the FAANG companies, but it’s not to be underestimated. Its stock price has grown by over 1,000% over the past five years (no typo), fueled by steep growth in both the gaming and data center markets. A rise in virtual networking during COVID and a deepening embrace of artificial intelligence put Nvidia on firm ground for further growth, which would propel Huang even higher on the billionaire totem pole. Big-time philanthropy doesn’t always follow, but it may.

An immigrant success story

Jensen Huang (who has also gone by the alternative anglicization Jen-Hsun) was born in Taiwan and moved with his family to the U.S. as a child. After some time in Kentucky, where, according to Forbes, the young Huang attended a boarding school that his relatives mistook for a prep school, the family settled in Oregon. Huang grew up there and attended Oregon State University before going on to study electrical engineering at Stanford.

That was in the early 1990s, at the dawn of the personal computing era. In 1993, Huang made the move that would land him where he is today, leaving another tech job and founding Nvidia alongside Chris Malachowsky and Curtis Priem. The company (whose name is apparently a kind of portmanteau of “next version” and the Latin word for “envy”) will be familiar to anyone with PC gaming experience as a leading manufacturer of graphics processing units, or GPUs, which lie at the core of graphics cards.

GPUs’ traditional use, funnily enough, is in the processing of images. But Huang’s initial vision went far beyond graphics alone. “We believed this model of computing could solve problems that general-purpose computing fundamentally couldn’t,” Huang told Andrew Nusca for a Fortune profile in 2017. “We also observed that video games were simultaneously one of the most computationally challenging problems and would have incredibly high sales volume.… Video games was our killer app—a flywheel to reach large markets funding huge R&D to solve massive computational problems.”

Nvidia is reaping the rewards of that expansive vision today. In addition to a still-thriving graphics card business with applications both inside and outside the gaming world, the company is channeling its GPU predominance into the burgeoning data center and AI fields, a digital-age diversification that mirrors Amazon’s foray beyond retail into web services. Nvidia has also been on the market since an IPO back in 1999, and is well-regarded by many as a growth stock.

Early-stage giving, with some mysteries

The upshot for Huang is that he’s likely to become a lot more well-known if all this growth continues, and that’ll mean greater attention to what he’s doing in the giving realm. So far, there isn’t too much to tell. Forbes gave Huang a score of one for his philanthropy in its latest rankings, the lowest score, next to a zero, which would indicate no giving or no available information.

But that doesn’t mean Jensen and Lori Huang’s philanthropy is an entirely blank slate. They do have a foundation, and a fairly sizable one, judging by assets. The Jen-Hsun & Lori Huang Foundation is based in the couple’s hometown of Palo Alto, California, and boasted about $380 million in assets in 2019—nothing to scoff at. Total giving that year stood at $17.7 million.

Still, much of the couple’s grantmaking through their foundation has been fairly conventional, centered on modest gifts to Oregon State University (where they met) as well as other universities like Stanford and Johns Hopkins. The Huangs have also directed larger sums to those institutions from time to time over the years, including $5 million to Oregon State in 2008 for a cancer research laboratory. There are also various local gifts in the six-figure range to nonprofits in the region like the Monterrey Bay Aquarium, City Year San Jose, and the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley.

The foundation’s most sizable giving, however, is also its least transparent. Over the last several years for which tax records are available, the bulk of its outlays have gone into an entity called the Ge Force Fund, which appears to be a donor-advised fund housed at Schwab Charitable. The name references Nvidia’s popular GeForce line of graphics cards, but it’s unclear whether the fund is related to the corporate philanthropy in any way. Transparency laws being what they are, it’s also hard to tell whether the Huangs are channeling any significant giving from this fund, or if it’s just a way to satisfy the foundation’s annual payout requirement.

Neither Jensen nor Lori Huang are known to be outspoken in their political views. However, a few grants have made it to progressive destinations, including the Tides Center. The couple have also joined Melinda French Gates in backing AI4ALL, a nonprofit aiming to promote diversity and inclusion in the artificial intelligence field. Neither of the Huangs have been notable political donors, but in an interview from late 2016, Jensen Huang stated that “on balance, I prefer a more liberal government.”

Another big tech giving couple?

All of that paints a picture of a billionaire donor couple who have kept things quite low-key, while sitting on a vast trove of potential philanthropic capital—both what’s already in their foundation (and possible DAFs) and what’s accumulating in overall net worth. Common wisdom would suggest that they’ll ramp up their giving at some point, possibly with Lori in the lead.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that if the Huangs were to do so, they could quickly join the ranks of Silicon Valley philanthropic power brokers. In that case, they might choose to adopt tech givers’ stereotypical strategic, number-crunching “giving code” of national and global lever-pulling. Or they might double down on the more traditional, local-minded civic approach they’ve already experimented with, something that’s all too often neglected among tech donors. To be clear, they’ll have enough money on hand to do both.

There’s also the fact that Jensen Huang is now one of the wealthiest Asian Americans, with a fortune exceeding Zoom’s Eric Yuan and rivaling eBay’s Pierre Omidyar. Organizations like the Chinese Institute of Engineers have recently lauded him as “a visionary and innovator.” At that awards event, he offered some social commentary with an engineer’s twist, saying, “Racism is one flywheel we must stop.”

Nevertheless, the Huangs have yet to engage with racial equity philanthropy in any major way. That includes the evolving field of Asian American philanthropy. As we’ve reported, the recent launch of the Asian American Foundation (TAAF) has drawn the backing of prominent AAPI businesspeople like Yahoo! co-founder Jerry Yang and Citadel Securities CEO Peng Zhao. Alibaba co-founder Joe Tsai has also gotten behind TAAF—Tsai and his wife Clara Wu Tsai have been ramping up their stateside giving, though Joe Tsai is technically a citizen of Hong Kong and Canada and thus didn’t qualify for the Forbes 400.

The fact that the Huangs haven’t said or done more on racial equity issues may indicate a less hearty appetite for engagement on that front. Or it might just mean they haven’t gotten around to it yet. If and when they do, that funding may take the form of something like support for entrepreneurship, education initiatives or workforce development grants, similar to what the Tsais or, say, Robert F. Smith have favored.

Then again, Jensen Huang’s professional mystique is built upon his status as an innovator, able to predict and get ahead of the next wave in computing. If the same can be said of his future philanthropic work—not always true with techies, alas—then it might not be a bad bet to expect the unexpected.

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