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Zuckerberg and Chan's Patient Approach to an Urgent Investment


By Daniel Lurie

In a time that is dark and scary for so many, when headlines tell of terror, racial tension and gun violence, we saw a sign of hope in Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg’s promise to contribute 99 percent of their Facebook shares to better our community and our world.

The backlash against the announcement has been interesting to watch. Maybe people feel compelled to pick this apart because it’s somewhat concrete when little else around us feels within our control.

Regardless of one’s feelings about how the announcement was made and what it consists of, we would do well to remember that this is an announcement, not a comprehensive strategy. And, there are a few elements that show Chan and Zuckerberg are headed in the right direction:

1. The announcement addresses the urgency of the issues we face

Income inequality, basic healthcare, hunger, education – these are big issues – issues we can’t, as a community, wait to solve.

What should be universally applauded is this couple’s willingness to give so significantly at such a young age, not waiting until retirement or beyond. This is the type of leadership our community needs to change the odds for people living in poverty. Their generosity makes a clear statement that we have to invest boldly today if we want to see real change for the future.

2. It takes a patient approach

Thanks in large part to innovation in the tech sector, we live in a world where we can get nearly everything we want right now. Our daily interactions occur at lightning speed. From Uber to Instacart, today’s expectation is instantaneous results.

The world of philanthropy is no different. Donors expect results, and many aren’t willing to invest without a very clear and often short timeline for success. It’s refreshing to see Chan and Zuckerberg take a different approach – making a long-term investment, the outcomes of which may not be seen in months, years or even their lifetimes. Big change takes time.

3. It leaves room for policy

Perhaps the most debated piece of their announcement was the strategic move to establish a limited liability company (LLC). Many have questioned their intentions, but an LLC has power that a traditional 501(c)(3) nonprofit does not. It leaves room to invest in policy, one of the strongest ways to affect problems of this scale. We can’t solve massive structural issues with private dollars alone – we have to work alongside the government.

4. It builds on existing expertise

Chan and Zuckerberg seem aware that they don’t have all the answers, which is why putting investments in the hands of experts can be liberating and impactful. Innovation is the birthright of every company in Silicon Valley, but nonprofits are rarely given the opportunity (or the money) to dream big, to try and fail.

At the same time, I hope Chan and Zuckerberg will invest significantly in the age-old solutions employed by so many nonprofits that provide a critical safety net for those in need.

The bottom line

When many feel hopeless and frustrated about the state of poverty in this country, I’m inspired by the enormity of this gift. I admire the promise to change the world for those who, through no fault of their own, are born into poverty and dire circumstances.

With the right strategy, I believe Zuckerberg and Chan’s commitment can help us create that change. I hope others follow suit. It’s not only an opportunity to better our community; it’s an opportunity to change the rhetoric around the tech sector and instill pride in working for the industry.

Read more in The Guardian about Priscilla and Mark’s announcement from another social sector leader, Steve Hilton, CEO and co-founder of Crowdpac and author of "More Human," to be published in the U.S. in 2016.

Image credit: Daniel Lurie

Daniel Lurie is CEO and Founder of Tipping Point Community, a non-profit working to find, fund and partner with the most promising groups in the Bay Area working to change the odds for people living in poverty.

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