$45 Billion To Advance Personalized Learning and Cure Disease
When a sum of $45 billion is involved, there are sure to be headlines and even controversy. In this case the newsmakers are Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, who announced their intent to give 99% of their Facebook stock to advance “personalized learning, curing disease, connecting people, and building strong communities.” It’s not their first sizable donation, nor likely their last, but it sets a tremendous example and elevates the bar several stories for philanthropy and largesse.
I encourage you to read A letter to our daughter by Zuckerberg and Chan. It expresses sentiments that all of us, especially the parents among us, should aspire to; whether we are rich or poor. Here are some excerpts:
…we have a moral responsibility to all children in the next generation.
We believe all lives have equal value…
Today we spend about 50 times more as a society treating people who are sick than we invest in research so you won’t get sick in the first place.
Our hopes for your generation focus on two ideas: advancing human potential and promoting equality.
Our experience with personalized learning, internet access, and community education and health has shaped our philosophy. … students around the world will be able to use personalized learning tools over the internet, even if they don’t live near good schools. … personalized learning will not only help students in good schools, it will help provide more equal opportunity to anyone with an internet connection.
While this is one of the largest philanthropic gifts ever, it builds on precedents set by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, who have donated more than $31.5B and $25B respectively to date. Zuckerberg had signed on to the Giving Pledge, started by Buffett and Gates, thereby promising to donate half of his wealth. Gates has also donated aggressively to improve education. It is estimated that the Gates Foundation has donated over $3.5B on personalized learning, education technology, and other projects related to education. The Dell Foundation is another supporter of education, granting $700M, two-thirds of the Dell Foundation donations, to advance education.
Other Zuckerberg Donations
Prior to this announcement, the Zuckerbergs had already donated $1.6B to a variety of projects, notably $100M with $100M of matching funds to the Newark, NJ, public schools in 2010. That project was confronted with local politics and while Newark graduation rates are up, Zuckerberg admits he learned a lot from that project. His $120 M endeavor to improve education in the San Francisco Bay area announced last year is structured differently based on what he learned during the Newark program. Specifically, “It’s very important to understand the desires of a community, to listen and learn from families, teachers, elected officials and other experts.”
So what’s all the Twittersphere noise about the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative? Some of the milder complaints are that he is helping himself through tax loopholes and public relations. Says a New York Times columnist, “Instead of lavishing praise on Mr. Zuckerberg for having issued a news release with a promise, this should be an occasion to mull what kind of society we want to live in.”
Some pundits have howled that Zuckerberg should have made the donation anonymously. Others find the idea of donating to an LLC, rather than a strictly charitable organization is deceiving. In reality, the structuring is carefully designed by some of the top brains in Silicon Valley to make sure the maximum resources do the most good.
Now, how about the rest of the billionaires out there? According to Forbes, there are 1,826 billionaires, of whom only 138 (8%) have signed the Giving Pledge. I suspect some of the whining about the Zuckerberg’s announcement are attempts to justify inactivity on the part of others.