Philanthropic parents: Facebook Zuckerberg, Philanthropy

Published: December 4, 2015

Philanthropic parents: Facebook Zuckerberg, Philanthropy, Mark Zuckerberg drives a Volkswagen Golf. He pays himself an annual salary of a dollar. In 2006, at the age of 22, he turned down a billion times that for Facebook. In 2010, when his then-girlfriend (now wife) Priscilla Chan moved in to his home, he posted an update offering their crockery and appliances because they had “2x everything”. He dresses in grey T-shirts and hoodies.

As quiet a life as Zuckerberg and Chan lead in some respects, they are in others fairly conspicuous. And on Tuesday they took an extraordinary action in the most visible way possible. Via an open letter to their new daughter Max (posted, obviously, on Facebook) the Chan Zuckerbergs announced that they would be donating 99% of their Facebook shares to charity during their lifetime. A missive featuring a bullet-pointed mission statement and the phrase “personalised learning tools” may lack the gooey warmth that little Max might have been entitled to expect, but no one can deny its potential impact: at current values, the family’s donation is worth more than $45bn.

If Zuckerberg was already the essential figure of our age – unironic, ruthlessly competitive, post-private – he could now be seen as its Superman, too. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have made similarly lavish gestures, but they are relatively old men, disposing of what they have accrued before it’s too late. Zuckerberg is 31. He presumably has many years ahead of him leading Facebook. He has reimagined social behaviour for his generation; now, via this “small contribution”, he has set them their most inescapable altruistic example. His contemporaries may find it a bit weird that he hasn’t starting flying yet.

Zuckerberg’s Facebook post was met, unsurprisingly, with huge acclaim. (Melinda Gates liked it; so did Shakira.) “The first thing is simply to congratulate the Zuckerbergs,” says Sir Tom Hughes-Hallett, a longstanding charity executive and co-founder of the Marshall Institute for Philanthropy and Social Entrepreneurship at the LSE. “It’s so important to recognise that this is a gift of extraordinary generosity before beginning to analyse it. I’m so excited by it.” Equally unsurprising were levels of snark that a Martian might not anticipate being doled out to people who have just given away 99% of one of the biggest fortunes in the world. “The lamest mission statement in the history of man,” one tweet called it. “Mark Zuckerberg donating 99% of your personal info to charity,” snorted another.

Busy as he presumably is changing nappies, Zuckerberg himself is likely to be unmoved by such critiques. The rest of us can probably agree, twitticisms aside, that a $45bn donation – more than double the Ford, Rockefeller, and Carnegie foundations put together – is pretty generous. All the same, $45bn never comes without strings attached, and once the sniping is dispensed with, there are serious questions to be answered.


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