Elsewhere online
December 08, 2015

Zuckerberg-Chan Plan: 'The Prize' Author and Others Weigh In

Journalist Dale Russakoff, whose book The Prize dissected the missteps that followed Mark Zuckerberg's $100 million donation to the Newark, N.J., school district, writes in The Washington Post that the Facebook chief executive's new $45 billion philanthropic plan shows he learned important lessons from that controversial earlier project.

The Newark effort drew criticism for its top-down approach, lack of community involvement, and bold predictions that the city's beleaguered schools could be made over in the five-year span of the gift, which was announced with national fanfare in 2010. Ms. Russakoff notes that in the letter outlining their recent pledge to devote nearly all of their fortune to social good, Mr. Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, listed guiding principles "clearly drawn from what went wrong in Newark," including promises to invest for the long term and "engage directly with the people we serve."

More media commentary on the Chan Zuckerberg plan:

● Jason Farbman, writing in leftist magazine Jacobin, argues that the initiative, structured not as a charity but as a limited-liability company, serves Mr. Zuckerberg's tax and business interests and is fundamentally anti-democratic. "Every dollar a billionaire realizes in 'tax savings' is a dollar starved from the public coffers" that should be "put under democratic control, so we can collectively decide how it can be used to improve society," Mr. Forbman writes.

● In "The Upshot" column of The New York Times, Josh Barro unpicks both the praise and the scorn the couple have received, particularly with regard to tax implications, and concludes that it's too soon to sour on the plan. "[T]hose of us hoping to make judgments and draw broad lessons from the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative will have to wait and see what it does, and how it works, to decide how much praise it deserves," he says.

● Justin Fox of Bloomberg View places the debate over the Chan-Zuckerberg plan within a long history of controversy over the philanthropy of America's wealthiest moguls. Andrew Carnegie's and John D. Rockefeller's giving more than a century ago was also contentious, particularly over the moguls' influence in areas such as education, Mr. Fox writes. "Maybe that’s what the best sort of philanthropy always is," he concludes.

Read a Chronicle of Philanthropy interview with Ms. Russakoff about the Newark school-reform effort and an article on how charities view the new charity plan of Mr. Zuckerberg and Ms. Chan.