Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, celebrated the birth of their new baby, Max, by pledging 99% of their shares in the company to launch a new foundation targeting public health, technology and education innovation. The shares are currently worth around $45 billion.
The pledge was announced Tuesday in a Facebook post penned as an open letter to their daughter. “Like all parents, we want you to grow up in a world better than ours today,” they wrote. But few new parents have the kind of scratch or influence Zuckerberg and Chan have to pursue policy change and innovation. Aware of their privilege, they're eager to give back.
“Our hopes for your generation focus on two ideas: advancing human potential and promoting equality,” they tell baby Max. To that end, they are launching the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative “to join people across the world to advance human potential and promote equality for all children in the next generation.” The organization will initially focus on promoting personalized education, curing diseases and building healthy communities, they said.
Zuckerberg has a history of devoting his sizable resources to philanthropy and scientific innovation. He is one of the founding sponsors of the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, which annually awards $3 million each to a handful of scientists whose research advances medicine. Recent winners were honored for discovering genetic variations that affect lipid distribution and mutations to amyloid precursor protein genes that cause early onset Alzheimer's disease. Zuckerberg was also one of the celebrities who participated in the ice-bucket challenge, a 2014 viral video sensation challenging viewers to drench themselves with a bucket of ice water or donate $100 to the ALS Association, an effort which ultimately raised nearly $100 million for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis research.
Zuckerberg and Chan join the ranks of other billionaire philanthropists like Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates in throwing the weight of their fortunes behind projects seeking to improve the human condition. In the Facebook post to his daughter, Zuckerberg repeatedly stresses his belief in a moral responsibility to address the social and environmental challenges to human potential. The sentiment echoes Gates, who has said he feels he owes a responsibility to society to give back the wealth he's acquired.
In early November, Zuckerberg and Chan joined the Giving Pledge, a movement founded several years ago by Buffett and Gates to inspire the world's ultra-wealthy individuals to donate at least half of their fortunes to philanthropic causes.
Gates was named No. 1 on Modern Healthcare's 100 Most Influential People in Healthcare list in 2006 for his work with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and he has appeared on the list seven times. Now in its 15th year, the foundation has pledged billions of dollars for public health and education projects worldwide. Last year, Gates pledged $50 million to help fight the Ebola epidemic then raging in West Africa. The Gates Foundation has also partnered with international governments and public health organizations in efforts to improve the health and mortality of women and children in poor countries and eradicate neglected and tropical infectious diseases worldwide.
In a comment on his own post (which had over 780,000 "likes" and hundreds of thousands of comments by the end of the day Tuesday), Zuckerberg called the Gateses an inspiration. He was responding to altruistic pal Melinda Gates, the top commenter, who lauded the new parents for setting an example for their daughter and the world.