San Francisco Tech giant Salesforce.com marked its 15th anniversary with a giant party that was equal parts music and philanthropy.
Hundreds of people took in a free concert in Justin Herman Plaza by Janelle Monae – as volunteers collected canned goods for the San Francisco Food Bank, and packed up 15,000 of supplies to ship to charities overseas.
But rather than lighting birthday candles, Company founder and CEO Marc Benioff used the occasion to try and light a fire beneath the city’s tech sector.
“We can see the tech backlash, we can see people’s reaction to things like buses on the street, the Ellis act,” said Benioff, making the rounds before Monae’s show. “Tech companies have not stepped up the level they could."
Benioff threw down the gauntlet, challenging tech companies to help raise $100 million for charity. He said the effort has so far raised nearly $10 million in the first week.
“I think it’s going to take a long time and a lot of work,” Benioff said. “You have to take the long view that this is one step on a journey.”
Benioff’s effort comes amid a growing furor over technology companies, who have shouldered the blame for San Francisco’s increasing wave of evictions.
Following protests over commuter shuttle busses, commonly known as Google buses, Google recently donated nearly $7 million to pay for free Muni rides for young people.
“They’re beginning to at least recognize they have an obligation to the city of San Francisco,” said Ted Gullickson of the San Francisco Tenants Union. “They owe us something and we just don’t owe them tax breaks.”
Gullickson applauded Benioff’s fundraising effort, but said the majority of the money he raises should go toward solving the city’s housing crisis.
“It’s great they’re spreading money around to various charities and all that,” said Gullickson. “But their impact is on housing so they should be spending all of that on building affordable housing.”
Benioff said some tech companies have resisted his call for donations. But Daniel Lurie whose company Tipping Point is helping to raise and disseminate the donations, said the tech sector has responded to Benioff’s request.
“All the calls we’ve made have been incredibly productive,” said Lurie, “and we have over 10 companies that have committed.”
Benioff said his company, which started in a Telegraph Hill apartment, has donated 55,000 volunteer hours to non-profits, and $50 million in grants.
But as he looked out at the massive crowd gathered for the concert, he cautioned the real celebration over affordability was probably years away.