What can Mark Zuckerberg's US$45 billion fortune buy? We do the sums

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan arriving for a White House state dinner on Sept 25, 2015.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan arriving for a White House state dinner on Sept 25, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

What can US$45 billion (S$63.54 billion) buy you?

That's the hefty amount that Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan have pledged to a new charity organisation, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

In line with keeping to their aims of advancing human potential and promoting equality, we take a look at how that sum of money can make a difference.

1. Send more than eight million children to school

Ever passionate about education, Mr Zuckerberg and Ms Chan's last philanthropic endeavour in October was to fund a special Californian school offering integrated health and education services to disadvantaged residents.

The Global Partnership of Education, an international organisation working to get children from the world's poorest countries to school, calculates that it will cost an average US$1.18 a day to put a child through 13 years of school (from pre-primary to secondary).

That amounts to roughly US$5,599 per child. And US$45 billion is enough to ensure more than eight million children have access to education at a critical period in their lives.

2. Feed all the hungry children in the world for almost 15 years

According to statistics by the United Nations' World Food Programme, 66 million primary school-age children around the world - 23 million in Africa alone - attend classes hungry.

An estimated US$3.2 billion is needed every year to feed them all.

3. Improve Internet connectivity in India by buying a smartphone for 360 million people

Facebook - and by extension Mr Zuckerberg - is an advocate of bringing the Internet to developing countries. A February report published through its initiative, Internet.org, found that only 16.7 per cent of the population in South Asia were connected.

In India, about 244 million people (about a fifth of the country's population) have Internet access. With a smartphone, one of the key devices to bridging the divide, costing as much as US$125, the Zuckerbergs could afford to give about 360 million people each a device.

4. Help 125,000 HIV patients with their lifetime treatments

With approximately 37 million people in the world living with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the World Health Organisation says 21 million have yet to receive antiretroviral treatment.

While HIV is treatable, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention estimates the lifetime cost of treating it at more than US$360,000 per patient. The Zuckerbergs would be able to subsidise the medical fees of about 125,00 patients.

5. Finance a part of the world's annual investment to improve infrastructure

World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim, who in April announced a broad strategy to end extreme poverty in 2030, estimated that an additional US$1 to US1.5 trillion was needed every year for key infrastructure such as roads, bridges, airports and energy plants.

The amount of US$45 billion might not seem all that much in this context, but it could well go a long way if the Zuckerbergs are strategic with where and how they spend it.