Thanks Zuckerberg: I Applaud Your Philanthropy Despite Your Motives

Money and PhilanthropySo by now you probably have heard that Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, has done something pretty remarkable. Last week, he appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show on the heels of the upcoming release of The Social Network, an unofficial look at how the social network was started. But it wasn’t to argue against the movie or debate any of the facts or events that took place. Rather, it was to coincide with another movie that people are interested in…Waiting for Superman. This documentary is based on the way our public school system currently operates and what must be done to fix it.

Zuckerberg’s appearance also coincided with Newark, NJ’s Mayor Cory Booker and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie where they announced a major initiative to help reform the school system. But nothing could top the announcement from Zuckerberg: he was going to donate $100 million to the Newark, NJ public school system!

So you might be wondering whether or not this is a great move and what was the purpose of him giving away $100 million of his own money (although skeptics believe that Zuckerberg doesn’t really have that money because Facebook isn’t worth as much as everyone thinks)? Well there could be a couple of motives here…some which are plausible and others could be pure coincidence – here are several:

  • Raise some goodwill in light of the somewhat damning portrayal of Zuckerberg on The Social Network.
  • Really help show how committed Facebook and the Zuckerberg family are when it comes to benefiting non-profits while coinciding with the impending release of Waiting for Superman – another PR stunt?
  • Contribute something to United Nations Week and show that he can do something for social good.

I think that the true motive behind this great gesture by Zuckerberg will only be answered by the man himself – and what he’s publicly telling everyone is that it’s not because of The Social Network and that it’s all about him helping those schools because he believes in what Gov. Christie and Mayor Booker are actually doing.  But while people may doubt the 100% sincerity of Zuckerberg’s donation – regardless of it, we must embrace it and do one simple thing: we must say “thank you”.

Thank you, Mark Zuckerberg.

Yes, that’s right…we must appreciate this huge gesture and instead of putting up a battle and raising interest in why he did it, we must be proud of the fact that Zuckerberg has donated way more than any normal person could possibly do in their lifetime and that he did it to help support a bipartisan effort to benefit our children’s school system without resorting to cutting costs and laying off teachers or stopping services. According to Zuckerberg’s blog post on Facebook, he reached out to New Jersey because he believes in what they’re doing. He didn’t do it blindly…rather, he’s been doing research for “over a year” on education. In fact, he says:

I feel very fortunate for the opportunities I’ve been given because of my education, including the chance to work with talented people and build a great company at such a young age. Rather than waiting until later in life to focus on giving back, I’ve spent a lot of the last year researching and looking for the most impactful ways to improve education starting in America.

Going to a school with boarded up windows and broken glass should not be a part of our education experience. A child’s biggest fear at school should be their next exam, not weapons or the kid sitting next to them.

Over the past several months, I’ve learned a lot about these challenges from Cory Booker and Chris Christie. Each of these leaders is prepared to make bold commitments to challenge the status quo and make Newark a symbol of education reform. Their personal commitments—and their willingness to cut through the politics and red tape to collaborate—persuaded me to support them and make a commitment of my own.

So what does this boil all down to? It’s basically giving our children and students another chance at succeeding, without making it seem that we’re taking a handout from the government to do better – it’s a way for us to step up and make some positive reform. Here’s hoping that Zuckerberg’s generous donation will be used to promote and implement successful initiatives without petty bickering from people running the whole thing – especially when politicians are involved…but from what you see on Oprah, Mayor Booker has been named the leader of this reform movement and has publicly stated that everyone must be held accountable – parents, students, teachers and administrators. Here’s hoping that they take this very seriously.

Zuckerberg’s philanthropy is very generous and probably not seen or heard of from the startup community. Frankly, who can blame the industry – it’s full of entrepreneurs and it takes a very successful company to reach the ranks of Twitter, Facebook and Zynga to have enough money to really make this kind of donation. In fact, I recommend reading Pete Cashmore’s commentary on CNN after this story broke. As the CEO of Mashable (@mashable), Cashmore has a good look at the startup community and after reading this article, I agree with most of the points being made, including:

  • Zuckerberg’s donation should be praised, as it will likely provide inspiration to the growing ranks of newly-minted technology founders.
  • As web technology continues to create dozens of young millionaires each year, 26 year-old Zuckerberg could make philanthropy cool among the tech set.
  • Zuckerberg puts a fresh face to philanthropy, and he may pave a different road for young technologists: To embrace charitable giving early in life.
  • Very few twenty-something web entrepreneurs are likely to amass a of $6.9 billion, but what if it became the norm for tech founders to celebrate an acquisition or IPO with a charitable gift? Regardless of motives, Zuckerberg may set a welcome precedent.

Instead of focusing on technology and making money, should we be helping to also raise awareness behind social good? Your product has been instrumental in helping connect people with each other and businesses with one another…so why not give back in some other way through philanthropy efforts – giving time to helping those in need either in person or some donation and really will be beneficial?

Zuckerberg has really set the bar high when it comes to philanthropy in the tech industry, but I don’t think we should strive to meet that bar…rather companies and businesses in all industries might want to look at seeing the example being set forth. It’s commendable that, in light of speculation over his true motives, Zuckerberg has made the effort to help the Newark public school system. If it results in something successful, then who knows what else might be next?

Photo Credit: penywise / sxc.hu

By Ken Yeung

Ken Yeung is a journalist fascinated with the stories of the tech industry and internet culture. He's currently the Technology Editor at Flipboard, where he observes what's happening in the space while also identifying new topics of interest. In addition, he co-hosts the weekly internet show "The Created Economy," which focuses on what's happening to creators and influencers. Previously, he was a reporter for VentureBeat and The Next Web, covering tech startups, the industry's innovations and funding. Ken also has a newsletter you should also subscribe to called "Filed."