Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan on Tuesday posted an open letter to their new baby daughter, Max, explaining why they plan to give away 99 percent of their Facebook shares — worth about US$45 billion currently — to philanthropic causes. The couple intend to make the donations gradually over the course of their lives.
“Technological progress in every field means your life should be dramatically better than ours today,” they wrote. “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. … “Our society has an obligation to invest now to improve the lives of all those coming into this world, not just those already here.”
A Chronicle of Philanthropy
Zuckerberg and Chan seek to advance human potential and promote equality.
Advancing human potential “is about pushing the boundaries on how great a human life can be,” they wrote.
Their goals include enabling the next generation to learn and experience 100 times more than is now possible, curing diseases so people can live longer and healthier lives, connecting the world, harnessing more clean energy, and cultivating entrepreneurship, according to the letter.
Promoting equality “is about making sure everyone has access to these opportunities regardless of the nation, families or circumstances they are born into,” Zuckerberg and Chan told their daughter.
That involves eliminating poverty and hunger; providing everyone with basic healthcare, building inclusive and welcoming communities, empowering everyone — and yes, nurturing world peace.
Advancing human potential and promoting equality will require a new approach: making long-term investments; engaging directly with recipients, building technology to effect change; backing the strongest and most independent leaders in each field; and participating in policy and advocacy.
“In philanthropy, people give for a lot of reasons, and it’s personal,” said Pat Moran, director of the George H. Heyman, Jr. Center for Philanthropy and Fundraising at NYU’s School of Professional Studies.
“I think they were thinking about the world and how their daughter would experience the world, and they know how their wealth can provide some much-needed relief to the world,” Moran told the E-Commerce Times. “I think it’s a very positive commitment to the future of children.”
Tech Eats World
The reference to participation in policy and advocacy reflects the intention of tech leaders to shape the world to their liking.
Their combined wealth and clout — Zuckerberg and Chan are working with Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and other very wealthy members of the high-tech community, all of whom have signed Buffet’s philanthropy pledge — gives them unprecedented influence over governments and public policy.
“It’s a very wide area [Zuckerberg and Chan are] talking about — human inequality, education. Because of the tremendous size of this gift, there will be many partnerships that will develop, both with governments and NGOs,” Moran noted.
For example, high-tech leaders have launched the Breakthrough Energy Coalition to invest in companies doing cutting-edge research on green tech, and to work with governments participating in the Mission Innovation clean energy program.
The Dark Side of the Philanthropic Moon
Though the Zuckerberg-Chan letter has drawn praise, it “is not likely to change the Silicon Valley mindset that seeks to leverage intellectual property for mega returns,” said Mike Jude, a research manager at Frost & Sullivan.
Nor should it, because, “if the generation of wealth is simply a way to ultimately fund progressive initiatives, most people wouldn’t bother,” he told the E-Commerce Times.
Facebook “supports many of the initiatives Zuckerberg talks about through the wealth generation of other people that it enables,” Jude pointed out.
That said, philanthropy “is a very important part of our society,” said NYU’s Moran, “and this is a wonderful way for [Zuckerberg and Chan] to celebrate the birth of their daughter and to celebrate philanthropy.”