Welcoming his new daughter to the world, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced yesterday (Dec. 1) that he and his wife Priscilla Chan plan to donate 99% of their shares in the social network to a new philanthropic foundation they created.
“Like all parents, we want you to grow up in a world better than ours today,” he wrote in a Facebook post addressed to his daughter, Max. “We will do our part to make this happen, not only because we love you, but also because we have a moral responsibility to all children in the next generation.”
The shares, currently worth $45 billion, will be doled out to the recently launched Chan Zuckerberg Initiative over the course of the Facebook CEO’s lifetime, according to a filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission. The foundation will work “to advance human potential and promote equality for all children in the next generation.”
Zuckerberg, who is taking two months of paternity leave, outlined some initial areas of focus for the organization: curing disease, improving education and “connecting people and building strong communities.” Many of the details remain vague, but he said he plans to share more “in the coming months.”
However, previous donations from Zuckerberg and Chan provide clues into the causes and organizations they’re likely to support.
Zuckerberg and Chan have become big champions of education. Chan was the first of her family to graduate from college, and told the Today show last May that “education is an incredibly personal issue for me.” A pediatrician who’s worked as a science teacher, she also encouraged Zuckerberg to teach a weekly after-school program for local underprivileged students.
In 2010, Zuckerberg made his name as a philanthropist with the announcement on Oprah that he was donating $100 million to schools in Newark, New Jersey. But five years later, the funds were found to have fallen short of his vision for urban school reform. As Dale Russakoff reveals in the book The Prize, much of the money was wasted on lavishly paid consultants, with little say given to the local community. In the end, Zuckerberg’s generous donation went to support bureaucracy.
Zuckerberg has learned firsthand how difficult it can be to change education, but he has remained dedicated to the cause. In an op-ed for the San Jose Mercury News last May, he and Chan pledged $120 million to improving the quality of education in underserved Bay Area communities through another organization they created, called Startup:Education. The money has gone toward purchasing computers, providing internet connectivity, training teachers, and more.
The couple has also donated about $1.5 billion to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, which offers scholarships to students and gives to charities globally focused on a gamut of issues, including education, immigration, and economic security. And Chan is the cofounder of The Primary School, a free private school opening in August that will serve underprivileged students who live in East Palo Alto and Menlo Park.
In his letter to Max, Zuckerberg talks about how students will be able to “use personalized learning tools over the internet,” to improve education and overcome limitations of their local schools. In September, Facebook dedicated eight full-time engineers to help Summit Public Schools, a local charter school network, develop educational software that can tailor lessons for students.
“Of course it will take more than technology to give everyone a fair start in life, but personalized learning can be one scalable way to give all children a better education and more equal opportunity,” Zuckerberg wrote.
Zuckerberg often talks about Facebook’s mission to connect everyone in the world, and appeared in his letter as “connecting people.”
“People often think of the internet as just for entertainment or communication,” he wrote. “But for the majority of people in the world, the internet can be a lifeline.” To reach those with the least access—people who live in rural areas or developing countries—he created Internet.org, which partners with local telecom operators to provide free but limited access to the web. He also has an ambitious plan to deploy drones, satellites, and lasers to beam internet from the sky to areas with no connectivity.
For Zuckerberg, internet connectivity is intertwined with learning. “If you don’t have access to a good school, then getting basic internet access can be your best educational information,” he said in a Nov. 4 earnings report call. That month, he and Chan pledged $20 million—in addition to a $3 million donation in 2013—to the nonprofit EducationSuperHighway, which aims to speed up internet connectivity at schools.
“[O]ne day, you or your children will see what we can only imagine: a world without suffering from disease,” Zuckerberg wrote. As ambitious and impossible as that goal might seem, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is set on “curing disease.”
Chan’s background as a pediatrician has played a key role in her and Zuckerberg’s donations to health groups. In February, the pair donated $75 million to San Francisco General Hospital, where she’s a pediatric resident. “Day in and day out, I witness the compassion and dedication of my colleagues as they work tirelessly to deliver the best available care to all of our patients,” Chan said in a statement. “Mark and I are proud to support such an important public hospital.” In March, the hospital changed its name to the Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital.
Before that, there was the $25 million donation to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during the Ebola epidemic, as well as $5 million to the Ravenswood Family Health Center, a local health clinic.
Science and innovation
In 2013, Zuckerberg and Chan—along with Apple chairman Art Levinson, Google cofounder Sergey Brin, 23andMe CEO Anne Wojcicki, and tech investor Yuri Milner—launched the Breakthrough Prize in Life Science, which awards $3 million (more than twice the Nobel prize) for research that helps prolong human life and cure disease (see: Health).
And just this past Sunday (Nov. 29), the couple launched the Breathrough Energy Coalition with Bill Gates—role model for billionaire tech CEOs who’ve gone post-money—to invest in clean-tech companies and ideas for alternative energy.
Though he didn’t explicitly say so, Zuckerberg also suggested that their foundation might work to help immigrants. “Can we truly empower everyone—women, children, underrepresented minorities, immigrants and the unconnected?” he wrote in his letter. “Can we build inclusive and welcoming communities?”
In June, the couple donated $5 million—in addition to $2.5 million last year—to a scholarship fund for undocumented students (file this also under Education) in the United States. But their organization might steer away from politics; Zuckerberg has learned firsthand how hard it is to change policy. In April 2013, he wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post announcing the launch of FWD.us, an organization he founded with other tech executives to lobby for immigration reform. While FWD.us was successful in raising $50 million in funds, it didn’t bring about reform. In September, shortly after US president Barack Obama shelved immigration policy, Zuckerberg pushed out FWD.us president, Joe Green, his old college roommate and a political newbie who didn’t understand how to navigate Washington, D.C.