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December 03, 2015

A Roundup of Views on the Zuckerberg Pledge

The giving effort announced Tuesday by Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, marks the most significant move yet to "take a new approach to the kinds of problems with which philanthropy has long struggled," a Wall Street Journal column contends.

The couple said that over the course of their lives they will put 99 percent of their Facebook stock — equivalent at current prices to more than $44 billion — into the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, a limited-liability company that will make both grants to nonprofits and investments in businesses pursuing social goals. The size and unusual structure of the pledge has triggered an avalanche of discussion and debate in philanthropic, business, and political circles.

Leslie Lenkowsky, an Indiana University public-affairs professor who also contributes regularly to The Chronicle of Philanthropy, writes in the Journal that the effort represents the culmination of the idea, popular among tech moguls, that harnessing the profit motive to solving social ills can achieve greater gains than traditional charity. If successful, Mr. Lenkowsky says, the project "may bring an end to philanthropy as we have known it."

Other views and reports on the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative in the media Wednesday and Thursday:

● Benjamin Soskis writes in The Guardian that the effort puts Mr. Zuckerberg and Ms. Chan in the forefront of the "Giving While Living" movement and further erases boundaries between philanthropy and entrepreneurship, while at the same time showing signs of "humility" and long-range thinking that counter caricatures of Silicon Valley giving.

The New Yorker's John Cassidy places the effort in the context of the rise of "philanthrocapitalism." That phenomenon encompasses both massive giving to address poverty, disease, and other problems while also shielding the wealthy moguls from significant tax liability and potentially giving them tremendous and inherently undemocratic influence in setting social policy, Mr. Cassidy says.

● A Politico article focuses on the debate over "personalized learning," one of the social goals named in Mr. Zuckerberg's open letter to his newborn daughter outlining the effort. The Facebook CEO has previously made clear his support for the idea of tailoring lessons to individual students' needs, using computers, tablets, and other technology. Critics say the idea is unproven and would involve collection of student data that raises privacy concerns.

● Facebook is taking pains to emphasize that the Chan Zuckerberg project is not a "charity," suggesting that media outlets use wording like "philanthropic efforts" or "new initiative," according to Fast Company, which received one such clarification request.

● "Room for Debate" on The New York Times site, offers three views on the tax aspects of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and whether such huge philanthropic gestures are intended in large part to protect billionaires' assets from the Internal Revenue Service. The Times also published a selection of responses from readers to the question of what they would support if they had $45 billion to give away.