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.