Why I’m a Fan of The Chan Zuckerberg Gift and The Spirit Behind It

Mark Zuckerberg Priscilla Chan daughter max

Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan with their daughter, Max. (Photo from Facebook)

“Our daughter and everyone in her generation should be able to live much better lives… The only way to reach our full human potential is if we are able to unlock the gifts of every person around the world… We have a basic moral responsibility to tilt our investments somewhat more to make that happen.” Mark Zuckerberg

If you haven’t yet done so, I encourage you to watch this two-minute video of Mark Zuckerberg, 31, and his wife, Priscilla Chan, 30, explaining why they launched the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (“Initiative”) with 99 percent of their Facebook stock (worth about $45 billion before last week’s market pull-back) in honor of the birth of their daughter, Max. Their goal is to “tilt investments faster” toward strategies that will ensure better education, healthcare and communities for all children in their daughter’s generation.

Big goals. Great goals.

In the video, Zuckerberg and Chan look and sound not like billionaires, but rather like quintessential millennials. They’re given the greatest gift of all—a child. In return, they want her and all other children in her generation to inherit a better world. Therefore, they “gift” 99 percent of their wealth in order to lift up 100 percent of the world.

Unfortunately, Zuckerberg is a target just by being his young, visible, uber-successful self. Of course, the world quickly responded with polarizing positions. The Guardian’s Michele Hanson quipped, “Could they not have given their money away without the sloppy letter to their daughter and the rest of us? Wasn’t that a bit show-offy? Isn’t $45bn rather too much for one family to have in the first place? And wasn’t it a bit measly of Facebook to pay only £4,327 UK corporation tax last year?”

Criticism also flowed off the system that allows vast wealth to vest in entrepreneurs like Zuckerberg, thereby giving them far greater power over philanthropic decisions and policy-making too. As Inside Philanthropy’s David Cameron writes, “While there are plenty of good people emerging at the highest levels of philanthropy like Zuckerberg and Chan, there are also less appealing actors. Close your eyes for a moment and imagine that… it was the Koch brothers who had pledged to use their entire fortune (of $85 billion) to shape the direction of U.S. society. The picture would look a bit different, right?”

I put “gift” in parentheses because what the Chan Zuckerberg’s actually did was place their stock in an LLC, with a pledge to reinvest any profits and an implication that they eventually will gift all of it to charity. According to The New York Times, the couple chose an LLC instead of a nonprofit structure because they want the flexibility to try ideas through for-profit businesses and the freedom to lobby on behalf of the most effective policies, as well as directly fund nonprofit best practices.

Confusingly, Forbes heralded their “gift” as an example of stock ownership transfer through a charitable donation that the rest of us can and should emulate. So, experts are confused about whether this “gift” is or isn’t a charitable donation, just as pundits are divided in their assessments of the wisdom of Chan Zuckerberg’s generosity.

I’m neither a charitable gifts expert, nor a pundit. But, as Founder and Publisher of Make It Better Media, I am a bit of an expert on demographics and the behavior of a well-educated, affluent audience.

As a demographic group, millennials expect mission, meaning and social good to be embedded in their work and everyday lives. They want maximum impact with their time and dollars. The Chan Zuckerbergs are a shining example of this.

But it’s not just millennials who are inclined to do good with their everyday lives. We’ve built a successful media company on proof that most people want to and will support good values if you make it easy for them to do so.

Zuckerberg was smart and lucky enough to launch a transformation in the way our world connects and communicates. I love that he and Chan can apply those insights and their billions to finding and supporting the most effective and efficient ways to educate every child, and provide them with good healthcare and safe, diverse communities. Hopefully, their LLC will allow them to skirt many of the traditional bureaucratic roadblocks to success.

As a society, we shouldn’t be bickering about methodology, rather we should appreciate all authentic efforts to move the needle forward for humanity and facilitate collaboration among all interested parties who bring expertise or resources to the table.

I like that Zuckerberg and Chan give themselves permission to try, fail and learn as they go. “It’s hard to [change complex systems] in the short term,” Zuckerberg states. “Like doing anything well in the world, it takes practice. In the projects that we will do in education, science, health, community building, we will learn lessons over time and hopefully get better and better.” That’s the winning attitude of a successful entrepreneur. And that is the attitude that will transform our world for the better faster, too.

Everyone wants their dollars, time and lives to create impact. The Chan Zuckerberg’s are in an enviable position with respect to impact. But please, let’s not let envy or frustration with current political, social or economic dynamics get in the way of celebrating their decision and its potential impact for all children in the future. Instead, let’s please celebrate the birth of Zuckerberg and Chan’s daughter and Initiative, and rejoice that they embody the millennial spirit.

As Chan says, “We need to ensure that the future is better than today.” This is our basic human yearning. Let’s please hold these idealistic new parents up as examples for all to follow.




Top Ten Social Entrepreneurs of All Time

Looking for inspiration that you can make a difference, make money, make meaning? That is what social entrepreneurs do.  Here are my picks for the 10 Best Social Entrepreneurs of all time.  Hope they inspire you too.

1. BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, Founding Father, Inventor, Publisher, Statesman

Benjamin Frankline

One of our country’s most influential founders, this prodigious man never patented his inventions – including printing techniques, bifocal lens, lightning rods and the Franklin stove.  He believed “as we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any invention of ours.” But Franklin’s social invention -“paying forward” – is probably his greatest contribution of all. It not only endures, the concept seems more influential than ever.

2. CLARA BARTON, American Red Cross Founder, nurse, educator, first female federal employee (patent office clerk)

A shy child with a calling to help others, the teacher cum civil war nurse developed into a very determined woman, activist and advocate – for the injured and lost, women’s rights and the need for a US version of the International Red Cross.   Ultimately Barton convinced the President and Congress to grant a unique charter that endures and has woven the volunteer disaster relief and aid society into our American fabric – thereby saving society hundreds of millions of dollars a year too.

3. KLAUS SCHWAB, Founder of the World Economic Forum & Schwab Foundation For Social Entrepreneurship, Professor, Connector Extraordinaire,

Klaus Schwab

This German engineer and economist created the World Economic Forum as an nonprofit foundation committed to finding solutions to global problems in 1971. He built it into the foremost community of world leaders in business, government, academia and civil society. An invitation to participate in its’ annual Davos Summit represents the epitome of power. In 1998, Schwab and his wife, Hilde launched the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship to promote entrepreneurial solutions at the grassroots level too.

4. PATRICIA ALBJERG GRAHAM, Historian of Education, Author, Education Advocate & Activist

Graham was probably the first American to advocate that a good education for all children is the best route to a better world and work in powerful positions to accomplish this. She served as President of the National Institute of Education, Dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education (and first female Dean at Harvard), President of global education research funder Spencer Foundation, consistently facilitating policies and programs that led to our current deep civic commitment to education reform efforts now.Pat Graham, social entrepreneur

Graham was probably the first American to advocate that a good education for all children is the best route to a better world and work in powerful positions to accomplish this. She served as President of the National Institute of Education, Dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education (and first female Dean at Harvard), President of global education research funder Spencer Foundation, consistently facilitating policies and programs that led to our current deep civic commitment to education reform efforts now.

5-7. BILL & MELINDA GATES, WARREN BUFFET, Billionaire Founders of “The Giving Pledge”Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

As of January 2015, 128 billionaire individuals or couples have committed to give at least half of their wealth to philanthropic causes. If they all do so with similar thoughtful effort as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Warren Buffet, bill and melinda gateshttp://www.gatesfoundation.org, this pledge could foster greater change for the better than any other initiative in history. Of course, even billionaires are human too…

8.  Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook Founder (and Giving Pledge Signer)

Facebook's Mark Zucke

Even if social ineptness did push Zuckerberg to launch Facebook, he is still the most successful online social entrepreneur in history – connecting 1.4 billion people around the world through a company whose About Us page emphasizes all the ways it helps.

The Jerusalem Post called this 30 year old the World’s Most Influential Jew too.

Because he is only 30 and seems to have married well – wife Priscilla is a daughter of boat refugees, former teacher and recent medical school grad – we should be hopeful that he can accomplish all the good inherent in his Giving Pledge too. The Zuckerbergs already have donated $120 million to help San Francisco’s public schools.

9. BLAKE MYCOSKIE, Founder of TOMS Shoes and Eyeglasses,

Creator of One for One ® Business Model


It might seem a stretch to put the founder of a business that has sold a mere 35 million shoes and even fewer glasses in the same category as founders of our country and other businesses generating billions of whatever. But, Mycoskie’s One for One® economic model seems to be a new iteration of Franklin’s pay it forward capitalism. And it’s working. For every pair of shoes sold, Toms donates another pair to needy children around the world. For every pair of glasses sold, Toms gives the gift of sight.

A growing number of savvy businesses are imitating this too.

10.  ADAM GRANT, Business Professor, Author, Consultant, Social Justice Advocate

Adam Gross, Photo Source: Forbes

Adam Gross, Photo Source: Forbes

The youngest tenured professor in Wharton’s history uses data and rigorous research techniques to prove that the most successful people in business look to help others.  Consequently, most successful businesses are rushing to work with Grant – including Google and Goldman Sachs.  In the process, Grant has become a champion for equality too, as evidenced by his recent NY Times OpEd co-written with Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg (author of “Lean In”) explaining how men also benefit when women succeed in the boardroom.