From Young Mogul, a Gift on the Scale of Philanthropy’s Elders

Mark Zuckerberg, America’s youngest billionaire at 26, has not spent much money on himself. Forbes estimates his fortune at $6.9 billion, but Mr. Zuckerberg, chief executive of Facebook, has yet to sell any sizable portion of his holdings in the company.

He rents an unremarkable house within walking distance of Facebook’s headquarters here. He favors jeans and T-shirts, drives an Acura and, unlike many other technology moguls, does not own a private plane.

On Friday, Mr. Zuckerberg announced his biggest expenditure to date: a $100 million grant aimed at improving public education in Newark, in partnership with Cory A. Booker, the city’s mayor, and Chris Christie, New Jersey’s governor.

Mr. Zuckerberg’s gift, which he announced during an appearance with Mr. Booker and Mr. Christie on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” instantly propelled him to the top echelons of American philanthropy and made him something of a hero.

But there is a competing version of Mr. Zuckerberg’s public persona, one that is on display in the film “The Social Network,” a fictionalized story of Facebook’s founding that paints him as a backstabbing college student who betrayed friends and partners to assert control over Facebook.

The movie had its premiere on Friday at the New York Film Festival, just hours after Mr. Zuckerberg announced his philanthropic endeavor. And the timing of the gift raised questions as to whether Mr. Zuckerberg was simply trying to burnish his image at a difficult time.

“I don’t think anybody gives $100 million to anything if they are not thinking to some degree how it sheds light on their beneficence,” said David Kirkpatrick, the author of a recent book about the company called “The Facebook Effect.” “Otherwise they give anonymously.”

Mr. Zuckerberg says he was hoping to do just that. On the Oprah show and in a later press conference, Mr. Zuckerberg and Mr. Booker both said that the Facebook co-founder wanted to make his gift anonymous. But Mr. Booker persuaded him that the grant, which challenges New Jersey officials to raise matching funds, would be more effective if his name was attached to it. And they said that the timing was driven by factors out of their control.

“The movie became a complication,” Mr. Booker said, because of the risk that the public would view the gift as “an elaborate publicity stunt.”

Indeed, the announcement on the Oprah show, which showed clips of Mr. Zuckerberg and his longtime girlfriend Priscilla Chan in their home, was linked to a different movie, a documentary about public education called “Waiting for Superman” that opened Friday and that Ms. Winfrey has promoted for much of the last week.

Mr. Zuckerberg said that the $100 million would be used to start a new foundation called Startup: Education. The entire gift is earmarked for Newark and comes with no strings attached, giving “flexibility to try out new things,” he said.

Mr. Zuckerberg’s gift was praised in the philanthropy world.

“It is truly exceptional for any age group,” said Patrick M. Rooney, executive director of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, which tracks giving. “Clearly when you look at most philanthropists, significant gifts like these are made late in life or after death. For someone to do this in their 20s is mind-boggling.”

Mr. Rooney said Mr. Zuckerberg’s is only the third gift of $100 million or more made this year in the United States. Last year, there were only six donations of that size or larger, he said.

Philanthropic giving in Silicon Valley and among technology moguls is not new. A number of legendary entrepreneurs, including Bill Hewlett and David Packard of Hewlett-Packard, Gordon Moore of Intel and Bill Gates of Microsoft have established large charitable foundations. But their giving typically came much later in life, after their companies and personal fortunes were well established.

A younger generation of Internet billionaires like Pierre Omidyar and Jeff Skoll, who made their fortunes with eBay, established foundations earlier.

“We have been seeing a very interesting phenomenon of dot-com billionaires making very generous gifts, in many cases with a different attitude than was in the past,” said Lester M. Salamon, director of the Center for Civil Society Studies at Johns Hopkins University. “People are striking it rich at an ever-earlier age.”

But even in those situations, those individuals established their philanthropies well after their companies went public. Mr. Zuckerberg’s gift is unusual, in part, because Facebook is still privately held, and there is no public market for its shares. Mr. Zuckerberg is giving shares to the foundation that will be sold to other private investors, a relatively new development in Silicon Valley.

Mr. Zuckerberg began discussing his plans to give away money with Ms. Chan, a former teacher who is now training to become a pediatrician, more than a year ago. The pair turned to Facebook’s No. 2 executive, Sheryl Sandberg, for advice. Ms. Sandberg, a veteran of the World Bank and the Treasury Department, had helped to establish, Google’s philanthropic arm.

Ms. Sandberg said she immediately arranged for Mr. Zuckerberg to meet prominent people in her network of contacts who helped him shape his plans. They included Michael R. Bloomberg, New York’s mayor; Joel Klein, the schools chief of New York; Wendy Kopp, the founder and president of Teach for America; and the philanthropist Eli Broad.

Mr. Zuckerberg also consulted with others including Mr. Gates and Arne Duncan, the education secretary. He firmed up the details this summer with Mr. Booker, whom he met at a conference of business moguls, and Mr. Christie.

“Growing up, I was really fortunate to go to some great schools,” Mr. Zuckerberg said during the press conference. He said he wanted to ensure that all children have similar opportunities.

“I really wanted to get started giving back at a young age,” he said.

Ms. Sandberg and Ms. Chan, along with Mr. Zuckerberg, will sit on the board of Startup: Education.

Fuente: The New York Times
Publicada: 24 de Septiembre 2010

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