Facebook founder's $64b pledge

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan with their newborn daughter Max. In an open letter to Max posted on Facebook, they said they would channel their money to ''join people across the world to advance human potential and promo
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan with their newborn daughter Max. In an open letter to Max posted on Facebook, they said they would channel their money to ''join people across the world to advance human potential and promote equality for all children in the next generation''. PHOTO: REUTERS

Announcing child's birth, he says Facebook stock will go to project to 'advance human potential'

It was a birth announcement for the ages.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's pledge to give away 99 per cent of his Facebook shares in an open letter to his newborn daughter Max dominated social media around the world yesterday and drew an outpouring of tributes.

The announcement, posted on his Facebook page, accumulated "likes" at a rapid clip, with over one million as of press time, including from notable philanthropists.

Mrs Melinda Gates, the wife of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, posted this message on Mr Zuckerberg's page: "The first word that comes to mind is: Wow. The example you're setting today is an inspiration to us and the world."

Similarly, Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, calling the pledge a positive sign for the future, said: "So, so wonderful to read such a magical letter. Commitments like this from the next generation of young entrepreneurs mean the world can and will sort out its remaining problems."

But the pledge also appeared to spark a conversation about the effectiveness of gifts of this nature. Critics raised questions about whether the donations paper over the lack of diversity within Facebook and mused about the tax breaks Mr Zuckerberg would receive.

An article on the Washington Post blog put up yesterday had excerpts from a 2010 interview with German shipping magnate Peter Kramer who argued that such giving was akin to donors taking the place of the state. "It's not the state that determines what is good for the people, but rather the rich want to decide," he had said.

In the open letter penned by Mr Zuckerberg and his wife, Dr Priscilla Chan, they said they would channel their stock - estimated to be worth about US$45 billion (S$64 billion) now - to "join people across the world to advance human potential and promote equality for all children in the next generation". They will set up a new Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to front the venture.

A subsequent Facebook securities filing said Mr Zuckerberg would sell or gift up to US$1 billion of stock each year for the next three years, while retaining his controlling stake in the company for the "foreseeable future".

The surprise pledge was notable also for the fact that the donors are so young. Other notable billionaire- philanthropists like Mr Gates and investment guru Warren Buffett focused on their charitable work only when they were scaling back on their business commitments.

Mr Zuckerberg is only 31 while Dr Chan is 30.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 03, 2015, with the headline 'Facebook founder's $64b pledge'. Print Edition | Subscribe