Philanthropy must be catching. After hanging out with Bill Gates in the ‘billionaires against climate change club’, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has decided to give a serious chunk of his wealth to charity – in the form of 99% of his Facebook shares, currently worth a stonking $45bn (£30bn).
Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan announced the decision in an endorphin-soaked open letter to their new daughter Max, published (of course) on Facebook, along with a video of the couple walking hand in hand through sunlit woodland with their dog. Most gushing new parents just buy a round in the pub...
‘Like all parents, we want you to grow up in a world better than ours today,’ the couple wrote, detailing the priorities for their new foundation, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. ‘The only way we reach our full human potential is if we’re able to unlock the gifts of ever person around the world,’ Zuckerberg added on the video.
The Initiative’s objective is to ‘advance human potential and promote equality for all children in the next generation’, which it hopes to achieve through long-term targeted investments. Among other things, it wants to eradicate disease, connect people and build communities around the world, cultivate entrepreneurship, support clean energy and ensure the next generation will ‘learn and experience 100 times more than we do today’. Nothing like starting small, eh.
As with most acts of philanthropy, it’s easy to be cynical. Zuckerberg, for instance, is not giving away his fortune now, but over the course of his lifetime. In a rather less gushing regulatory filing with the American Securities and Exchange Commission, Facebook said he would sell or gift no more than $1bn worth of stock over the next three years and intends to retain his majority voting position for the ‘foreseeable future’.
In fact, he’s not technically giving the stock to charity at all. The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is actually a limited liability partnership, the shares of which will all by owned and controlled by Zuckerberg.
And for that matter, the goal of connecting people without access to the web sounds very similar to that of Zuckerberg’s internet.org, which has taken some criticism for its side effect of promoting Facebook as the only internet portal for the world’s poor. Experiencing ‘100 times more than we do today’, meanwhile, could have been taken from an advert for the virtual reality world of Facebook’s Oculus Rift.
But leaving all that aside, the fact remains that Zuckerberg has publicly committed to forgoing the profits from his vast wealth in order to direct them towards good causes. Yes, he’ll still be fabulously well off, but this could actually limit his lifestyle at some point – private jets don’t come cheap, after all.
You could argue that Zuckerberg is really just giving himself the power to shape the future in his own image (and with his name printed all over it), and that the money would actually be better spent by a technocrat than a plutocrat. But ultimately it’s his wealth to give, and a public commitment to philanthropy on such a scale should be welcomed – not least as an example for others.