Mark Zukerberg creates headlines with his plans for creating a philanthropic trust with a donation of shares worth forty five billion dollars. Paul Hinks examines the story for Leaders We Deserve
The headlines were dramatic. The BBC reported: “Zuckerberg to give away 99% of his shares”. The Telegraph and others carried similar headlines. Mark Zuckerberg and his wife have said they plan to donate 99 per cent of their shares in the social network to philanthropic efforts. Very commendable.
The stock, which is worth around $45bn, will be given to causes which “advance human potential and promote equality for all children in the next generation” Zuckerberg said in an open letter on his Facebook page. That’s an impressive and massive statement of intent by any measure.
The Future needs to be better than today
Philanthropy is about driving sustainable, lasting, positive change – it’s not just about fixing the symptoms; rather the focus is on the root cause. It’s about making a difference, about shaping our future – the future. Being proactive, not reactive. It maybe as simple as that. Zuckerberg has had enough fun, and now prefers to throw his substantial financial weight behind efforts to the world’s problems.
The Guardian provides another perspective:
Philanthropy perhaps comes naturally to tech entrepreneurs, for whom the line between saving the world and doing business is often blurred. When Google announced plans, for example, to use its computing power to sequence the gene for autism, was it trying to help humanity, or expand its empire into the life sciences industry, or actually both? But if you add the Zuckerberg-Chans’ $45bn to the $34bn distributed so far in grants by Bill and Melinda Gates’ personal foundation then America’s new computing dynasties start to resemble not so much individuals as nation states: rich and powerful enough to shape all our lives, even more than their software has already done. Only a churl would sneer at the Gates Foundation’s contribution to almost eradicating polio, reducing preventable deaths among children under five and distributing anti-HIV drugs.
Massive donations of wealth
So well done Mr Zuckerberg – but there remains areas which require further clarification to avoid the skeptics from detracting from the well-intended claims that your motivations are all good.
The Japan Times made the poignant observation: Mark Zuckerberg promises to give 99 percent of his Facebook shares to charity — eventually.
Exact phrasing: the stock, currently worth $45 billion, will be donated “during [his and his wife’s] lives.” He’s 31 and she’s 30, so actuarial tables being what they are, by approximately the year 2065. If Facebook or the Internet or the Earth still exist. There’s also the suggestion of creative tax avoidance and why Zuckerberg has opted to structure the massive donation of wealth through a Limited Liability Company (LLC). To help clarify the decision Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post that it will enable Chan Zuckerberg to: “Pursue our mission by funding non-profit organizations, making private investments, and participating in policy debates — in each case with the goal of generating a positive impact in areas of great need.” – explaining that any net profits that resulted from these investments would go back into supporting this mission.
A plausible and valid response to the deeper questioning.
The Tradition of Giving
At first I found Zuckerberg’s pledge incredible. It has the potential to drive change and progress in so many different areas. Indeed, there is so much disparity in society, so many problems and complex situations to address.
Perhaps Zuckerberg does understand that he is merely the trustee of all that wealth (and not the owner), and that wealth can – and should – be used to for the welfare of all, and in particular the disadvantaged?
It would be helpful to provide a clearer indication of the goals – an agenda for change; some transparency around the end goal. Otherwise cynics will wait for evidence that Mr Zuckerberg is moving at least partly towards escape free from the shackles of the shareholders.