"It seems each decade an event occurred which provided an obvious opportunity to act and make a difference. Each time, philanthropy became a cornerstone in the life we created together."

Juniper and Lee Stein
August 2020

When I was quite young, through religious training, I learned about the principles of Tikkun Olam and Tzedakah.

  • Tzedakah is the Hebrew word for philanthropy and charity. It is a form of social justice in which donors benefit from giving as much or more than the recipients, even when the philanthropy is anonymous.
  • Tikkun Olam is understood to be the act of “repairing the world” through human actions. Humanity’s responsibility to change, improve, and fix its earthly surroundings is powerful. It implies that each person has a hand in working towards the betterment of nature and of the world as a fundamental responsibility for the lives of future generations. Simultaneously, the act increases the well-being of humankind as a key element of repairing the world, in all communities, not just Jewish communities.

The concept of being philanthropic was hard to grasp as a child when one has to get allowance and lunch money from your parents. While some kids want to be a fireman or doctor or professional athlete, for some reason, early in my life, I wanted to be a Philanthropist. I figured that one would have to be really successful to be able to give away money.

But then, as a young professional I learned that volunteer work, as well as the donation of monetary and physical resources, enables people to be philanthropic. So, as opportunities presented, Juniper and I were so grateful that philanthropic opportunities arose which enabled us to make contributions of time with modest financial support.

This first happened in 1983 when my childhood friend Richard Sork lost a battle with Lymphoma.  As we left the cemetery it just seemed obvious for a few of his old friends to do something to honor Sork.  Richard’s dad, Mort, warmly offered to match “whatever you kids do!”

Juniper and I were operating our entertainment firm, Stein & Stein, Incorporated. A client, the band Men at Work was gracious and helped us host a reception at their concert in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia.  Nancy Toran Duitch and Scott Isdaner were super organized implementers.

Together we raised enough funds for a Lab at the University of Pennsylvania in Richard’s name (pictured below). One of the warmest moments in my life happened when Mort, teary-eyed with appreciation, admitted that while at the funeral he had still thought we were kids and never imagined that we could arrange such a significant tribute for Richard. It was heartwarming when he then advised that his commitment to match was offered while he had still thought of us as kids playing in the yard and the amount of funding raised exceeded his financial capacity to match. It was the perfect tribute to a childhood friend. That was what Juniper and I refer to as our “first philanthropic win”.

Years later after Juniper recovered from her Ankylosing Spondylitis it just seemed obvious to make a donation to the Scripps Health Foundation in San Diego to fund research into the non-traditional modalities. Unfortunately, the Chief Medical Officer, a brilliant trauma physician and friend, advised that there were no IRB Protocols (Institutional Review Board) at the institution for this type of research. He did however arrange an introduction to Dr. Mimi Guaneri, an incarnate angel of a physician. That was the beginning of Juniper and I becoming the Founding Chairs of the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine Community Advisory Board. This led to our participation with the innovative and yet unproven work of Dr. Dean Ornish. Scripps became an Ornish study site and the work that we supported was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and the Journal of Cardiology proving Dean’s Theory that coronary disease could be reversed. The Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine became a Center of Excellence on the Scripps Health Torrey Pines campus. This was an institutional level of win that took many years, our second “philanthropic win”.  Today I sit on the Board of the Preventative Medicine Research Institute (PMRI) founded by Dr. Ornish, extending lifestyle approaches to wellness.

Shortly after those papers were published, I was invited by a Board member of First Virtual to apply my entertainment history to help address a problem. Basically, environmentalists did not trust business people and business people did not trust environmentalists. An organization was in development to create a business voice for the environment. Environmental Entrepreneurs was founded by Nicole Lederer and Bob Epstein with affiliation to the Natural Resource Defense Council.

I had never focused much attention on the environmental issues until that phone call. I became an “inadvertent environmentalist”. It just seemed obvious that the world needed a business voice for the environment. This cycle of philanthropic work was truly inspirational.

I was unprepared for an introduction to the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) who was exploring innovative approaches to environmental issues. Prize Capital was retained by the GEF with the IFC (International Finance Corporation) as the implementing agency. The scale is extraordinary. The GEF has provided close to $20.5 billion in grants and mobilized an additional $112 billion in co-financing for more than 4,800 projects in 170 countries.

Lee served as a contractor to design the World Bank Global Environment Facility’s “Earth Fund” which he formally launched with the GEF and IFC in Bali at the UNFCCC COP 13.

I was invited to be a GEF delegate to UNFCCC Bali (COP 13) March 2008 and to participate in a press conference with Monique Barbut, CEO and Chairperson.

This GEF work introduced me to a new vista of environmental and political realities. Jason Clay of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) had made the introduction. I consider Jason to be one of the most brilliant environmental market analysts in the history of the intersection of commerce and the environment. I consider it an honor to have had our lives intersect.

It just seemed obvious in the late ‘90s that nature was being assaulted. Rivers had been on fire and air quality had diminished. From a risk-reward perspective, if we listened to the scientists who had dire predictions, and they were wrong, the worst case was that society would spend some money and the world would be cleaner. Versus, if we listened to climate denier scientists, and they were wrong, we had catastrophic irreparable risks to humanity and to all living things. It was an honor to be asked to participate as a co-founder of the Southern California E2 chapter. There were multiple “philanthropic wins” supporting the work of California Senator Fran Pavley. Among other achievements, AB-1493 and AB-32 became law! As a business voice for the environment, E2 pushed an agenda of a new growth industry, jobs related to environmental technologies. It was a very appropriate philanthropic activity, and has some twenty years later, proven to be an essential job creation tool.

The E2 work led to an invitation from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) (founded 1903) to join the Directors Council Board. This is an esteemed institution then under the direction of Dr. Tony Hamet. I became enamored with its work on ocean acidification. It just seemed obvious that this new scientific observation presented life-altering risks to all living things. I was invited to join the SIO delegation to present the science of ocean acidification for the first time to an international audience in Copenhagen at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Conference of the Parties (COP) 15, December 2009. This was a humbling step in my philanthropic journey, and my fourth “philanthropic win”.

Noble Laureate Oscar Arias, President of Costa Rica asked the NRDC/ E2  to investigate how to enable Costa Rica to become Carbon Neutral. Juniper and I were invited to travel to join the delegation and meet with President Arias. Through Prize Capital, Juniper and I then introduced the delegation members one of our favorite places on earth, the biologically diverse OSA peninsula. In time, Prize Capital developed a program to help protect the OSA.

Led by Prize Capital executive, Emily Arnold and Ambassador Luis Diego Escalante, Ambassador from Costa Rica, we helped develop and secure funding for the INOGO project at the Stanford University Woods Institute for the Environment.  The Osa & Golfito Initiative, “INOGO”. 

Overlapping with the E2 work and the SIO work, Juniper and I had the privilege of being invited to a dinner on behalf of the XPRIZE Foundation, hosted by Peter Diamandis at the home of Elon Musk. This was 2005, shortly after the Ansari XPRIZE was awarded for the first private rocketship to reach space.  We became enamored: It just seemed obvious that the concept of incentive prizes to invent the future was a profound tool.  We became active with a mix of time and small financial contributions.

Having the history with E2/NRDC and with SIO, caused me to ask a question at an XPRIZE Board meeting one day: Is it possible to turn CO2 into an asset, to convert the waste product into something of value? It just seemed obvious that the warring factions would never reach a common ground, but that turning waste into an asset was an inevitable win-win. I took a very active role in the creation of the NRG Cosia Carbon XPRIZE. The history, from my perspective, was made possible by the dedication of 1) Jim Spiers, then EVP of TriState now NRECA executive 2) Mike Easley, then Chairman of the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority and CEO of Powder River Energy Corporation with, 3) the direct support and involvement of Governor Matt Mead (R-WY).

Trains are required to sound their horns as they approach intersections. In Del Mar, CA the sound rattled the community multiple times per day. Could there be a solution? It just seemed obvious that new technology solutions must offer a solution more advanced than historical Federal Railroad Administration rules. With the help of the North County Transit District (NCTD) led by Matt Tucker, a self-appointed group of us were able to implement a “wayside” horn solution to stop the horn from disturbing the neighborhood. See The Del Mar Quiet Zone.

Spencer is the first human being to have a formal study of the spinal cord using a 7 Tesla magnet. The N=1 study was performed at the NYU Langone Radiology—Center for Biomedical Imaging with Dr. Dan Sodickson due to an incidental medical finding. The details of this study are beyond the scope of this summary, yet we are grateful that a significant series of wins occurred. See Spencer’s page for more details.

Skyler was the subject of a very early microbiome N=1 IRB study at the J. Craig Venter Institute. The details of this study are beyond the scope of this summary.

At XPRIZE Visioneering in 2011 I asked a series of questions: What happens if the bees really die? How will crops be pollinated? What is Plan “B”?  Isn’t that the type of radical breakthrough that we should be facilitating?  It just seemed obvious that we should take action to protect the bees’ demise of bee populations would be catastrophic. The concept of a prize for micro drone bee pollinators surfaced, considering them Robo-Bees and the concept was branded the Plan B-e-e XPRIZE. Focus groups concluded that it was wrong to replace bees with a technological solution, that the bees should be saved. The next step was to look for a biological approach to run concurrently.

A famous mycologist offered a radical theory that we chose to support; mycelium solutions (MYCO) could enhance bee immunity. Juniper and I provided inaugural seed funding to move the concept onto a lab bench and then, when the initial experiments proved successful,  we secured the funding to escalate the concept into the field. The outcome was published in Nature. We received an acknowledgment in the Nature publication. This was our sixth “Philanthropic Win”.

Our current project is related to COVID. In conjunction with Dr. Gordon Saxe MD, PHD,MPH  director of the UC San Diego Center for Integrative Nutrition and chair of the Krupp Endowment for Research, we plan to undertake a study related MYCO concepts in the Bee Study in conjunction with a TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) study created by the UCLA Center for East West Medicine. The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) just granted an IND (Individual New Drug) partial approval for the MYCO portion of the study with separate requests for TCM information. We are not yet ready to declare a “win”, but FDA approving MYCO clinical research study is a very promising step. Details are available upon request.