News and analysis
December 01, 2015

Zuckerberg and Chan Pledge Nearly $45 Billion to ‘Improving This World’

Courtesy of Mark Zuckerberg
Mark Zuckerberg's $45 billion pledge to "improving this world" is one of philanthropy's biggest. In a letter to his newborn daughter Max, Mr. Zuckerberg provides insight into what causes resonate most with him and his wife, Priscilla Chan.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said Tuesday that he and his wife, Priscilla Chan, will give away 99 percent of their shares in the company — currently worth $45 billion — to help in "improving this world for the next generation."

In a letter addressed to his newborn daughter Max, Mr. Zuckerberg spelled out two goals that will drive the couple’s giving: advancing human potential and promoting equality.

"Having this child has made us think about all of the things that should be improved in the world for her whole generation," Mr. Zuckerberg said in a Facebook video explaining their decision. "The only way that we reach our full human potential is if we are able to unlock the gifts of every person around the world."

The commitment is one of philanthropy’s biggest ever. It echoes Warren Buffett’s 2006 pledge to donate shares of Berkshire Hathaway stock worth about $43.6 billion, and it cements Mr. Zuckerberg and Dr. Chan’s place in the top stratum of donors worldwide.

To transfer his fortune, Mr. Zuckerberg established a new company, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. It will give money to nonprofits, participate in public advocacy, and make investments whose profits will be used to support its work, according to Facebook’s most recent SEC filing, made Tuesday, and additional information provided to The Chronicle.

Differing Approaches

Mr. Buffett directed his stock to five grant makers: the Bill & Melinda Gates, Susan Thompson Buffett, Howard G. Buffett, Sherwood, and NoVo foundations.

By setting up a company, Mr. Zuckerberg will retain control over his approximately 4 million shares of Class A common stock and 419 shares of Class B common stock. Mr. Zuckerberg will not sell or give away more than $1 billion of Facebook stock each year for the next three years, according to the SEC filing.

The letter, which Mr. Zuckerberg posted on his own Facebook page Tuesday, provides insight into what causes resonate most with the couple: curing disease through preventative research, supporting entrepreneurship, spreading access to education, and empowering all people to use their talents.

While they care about the present, they said, the couple is decidedly focused on shaping the future.

"Our society has an obligation to invest now to improve the lives of all those coming into this world, not just those already here," the letter reads.

"We need to make sure that there are investments in programs that ensure that the future isn’t going to be like today," Dr. Chan explained in the Facebook video, "that the future is going to be better than today."

The couple calls for a "new approach" to tackling big challenges, including making long-term investments, learning directly from the people they hope to serve, investing in innovative technology, participating in the policy-making process, and being willing to take risks.

Investing in Technology

The letter also underscores the couple’s faith in technology to change the world for the better. It cites the rise of personalized learning technology and increased Internet access as two of the most promising developments for spreading knowledge and improving people’s lives.

But Mr. Zuckerberg and Dr. Chan acknowledge that technology alone cannot solve every problem. The letter cites the Primary School, a nonprofit kindergarten-through-grade-12 institution that the couple founded this fall, as a model for the new institutions they hope will provide both education and health care to kids to help strengthen communities.

Mr. Zuckerberg and Dr. Chan are not new to philanthropy. They signed the Giving Pledge in 2010 and are among the youngest on the list of 137 billionaires who have publicly committed to giving away at least half of their fortunes.

They ranked No. 1 on The Chronicle’s list of most generous donors in 2013 after donating 18 million Facebook shares, or $992.2 million, to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. The couple donated the same number of shares to the foundation in 2012, landing them at No. 2 on the list of donors that year.

Mr. Zuckerberg has shown himself willing to take big swings at complicated social problems. In 2010, he pledged $100 million to help improve public education in Newark, N.J. The effort was closely watched but was deemed a failure by many, due to multiple factors including a lack of local consensus building and the erosion of state funding for public schools as more students shifted into charters.

According to Facebook, the couple will guide the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative by looking to other philanthropists and "experts and advisory boards to inform opportunities, guide investments, and ultimately determine the areas with the most need and the ways in which their investments can have the largest impact."

Send an email to Rebecca Koenig.