"Education is an incredibly personal issue for me…If you are the first generation to go to college, sometimes you do not realize your potential until others point it out.”
In December of 2015, Dr. Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg announced the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and pledged to give 99% of their Facebook shares over their lifetimes to supports its mission. The initiative seeks to advance human potential and promote equality. Initially, focus areas will include personalized learning, curing disease, connecting people, and building strong communities. A notable hallmark of the initiative is that it is a limited liability company, not a nonpro t charitable organization, and can invest in a wide range of entities to accomplish its goals. The couple’s announcement was not their first endeavor in charitable causes. In 2012, Ms. Chan and Mr. Zuckerberg signed over 18 million Facebook shares—valued at about USD 500 million (RMB 3 billion) at the time—to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. In 2013, the couple donated another 18 million shares, worth approximately USD 992 million (RMB 6 billion), which was the largest single donation that year, and put Zuckerberg and Chan at the top of the list for the year’s most generous philanthropists. The bulk of this giving was directed toward community needs in fields that resonate with Ms. Chan’s personal experiences and concerns: education and health. The couple, who also supports economic security and immigrant integration, and disaster relief worldwide, has the potential to expand into other areas, given their increasingly vast assets.
A child of immigrants, Chan has spoken publicly about how public education has shaped her life. She described how her parents left Vietnam in refugee boats, seeking a better future but not understanding the education system in their new homeland. Ms. Chan grew up serving as an interpreter for her grandparents, who did not speak English, while her mother worked long hours at a Chinese restaurant and other jobs. As the first in her family to graduate from college, Ms. Chan said, “Education is an incredibly personal issue for me... If you are the first generation to go to college, sometimes you do not realize your potential until others point it out.” She credits her public school teachers for having confidence in her. “It was really my teachers who got me opportunities to attend college, to go to medical school, and to be able to give back as a doctor today,” she said. “They’re the ones who said, ‘You know, apply to Harvard. You might be a good fit there’!”
Other areas that inspire her philanthropy include health and social equity. Ms. Chan, a Harvard-trained pediatrician, was described by her husband as being deeply moved by seeing children’s lives changed, often dramatically, by proper medical care. Children’s health, safety, and happiness drive much of what she does in life and work. Her work teaching at a private college preparatory school in San Jose, California, and volunteering as a tutor and mentor at an after-school enrichment program in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, give her firsthand experiences with the social and economic inequities in society. Ms. Chan has also served as the chief operating officer of the Primary School in East Palo Alto, one of the most disadvantaged neighborhoods in the San Francisco Bay Area. These experiences have no doubt driven Ms. Chan’s philanthropic work. In 2010, the couple made a USD 100 million (RMB 610 million) contribution to reform Newark Public Schools, and in 2014, they committed another USD 120 million (RMB 730 million) to improve educational opportunities for underserved communities in the San Francisco area.
Perhaps the biggest impact that Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg have had so far is being an inspiration for the future of philanthropy. Their record-breaking gifts at such early stages in their lives has captured headlines world-wide. In a 2016 Time magazine article, Bill and Melinda Gates expressed their admiration for the two and for their vision of an interconnected world where all people have a chance to make the most of their talents. In particular, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, supported by 99% of the couple’s wealth, will go toward education, curing diseases, and building strong, connected communities. They are indeed the future of giving.