Can Mark Zuckerberg Redefine Philanthropy for a New Generation?

When we consider the history of strategic giving, John D. Rockefeller — one of the key founders of modern day philanthropy — stands out as the patriarch of global social change.

Rockefeller focused heavily on education, health care, and science throughout his philanthropic ventures. He founded universities like Rockefeller University in New York City and the University of Chicago. With his founding of The Rockefeller Foundation in 1913, he sought to cement his global philanthropic ambitions for future generations. The Foundation pioneered the field of public health, funding the first school of public health at Johns Hopkins University. It worked to defeat hookworm and to tackle the threat of malaria, and so much more. To this day the Foundation’s mission is still the same — to promote the well-being of humanity throughout the world. It focuses on a wide range of issues from helping cities around the world become more resilient to the shocks and stresses of the 21st century to building smart power in rural India.

Now, as we enter a new era of global change, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and CEO, and one of the youngest and most influential philanthropists of our generation, has developed his own model for social change, innovation, and philanthropy. He and his wife Priscilla Chan primarily use a donor-advised fund through the Silicon Valley Foundation, where they direct grants to various causes. These causes include funding for education reform, efforts to fight Ebola as well as funding to push for immigration reform in the US, and a key global effort to spread internet connectivity across the world. Earlier this year Zuckerberg donated $75 million to San Francisco General Hospital. His giving philosophy harkens back to Facebook’s early philosophy: Move fast and break things (which has now been updated to Move fast with stable infra). This philosophy of building and creating products fast to bring to market, even if there are a few bugs, or in other words not letting perfect be the enemy of good, sets him apart in today’s world of philanthropy because it diverges from the models used by givers, past and present, at institutions like Gates, Ford and Rockefeller.

We live in the here and now, therefore we must solve for the now. Zuckerberg can truly bring about a more inclusive form of philanthropy that is built around networks and community engagement — both in the real world and online. His form of social change very much reflects his hackathon method of problem solving and idea development, where staff post new ideas (apps, software, FB features, etc) and work together in a short period of time to bring those ideas to life.

There are three core themes in which Zuckerberg can further explore and develop as his philanthropic influence continues to grow:

· Build a new model of philanthropy around creative design, engineering, and web platforms. As Zuckerberg continues to grow and Facebook itself, he will be able to tap the knowledge and power of an array of creative communities to build innovative solutions to many of the world’s most pressing social and technical needs.

· Engage a new generation of idealists, creators, and problem solvers to redefine the meaning and power of philanthropy in the 21st century. His ability to connect with millennials and his understanding of social entrepreneurship to shape our planet, allows him to push forth a more conscious, open, and human-centered form of philanthropy that taps into the hopes and abilities of a new generation of social change agents.

· Break down institutional barriers to redefine philanthropy across sectors, networks, and organizations. We can no longer sit and wait for sustainable social change nor can one sector or one individual carry this change on their shoulder. We need all hands on deck as this will be vital to opening up new markets for social entrepreneurship and the discovering of new problem spaces. Tearing down these barriers will make solutions more scalable and cost effective, while utilizing the skills of individuals from a variety of industries and organizations to solve unique global challenges.

We need risk-takers, problem solvers, door kickers, and tenacious change seekers. The world is a messy place and, consequently, requires expedient and somewhat messy problem-solving. That means some solutions will fail, while others succeed. It means learning from mistakes in order to develop new solutions. It means starting without always knowing the final destination. But if you have an idea, a compass, and a belief in something greater than yourself, there is nothing that can stop that momentum and will for meaningful social impact.

There is and should always be a place for thoughtful and strategic emergent philanthropy — we need organizations focused on solving those thorny, long-term problems that require months and months of planning and years of organizational management. In addition, we also need the Zuckerberg type of philanthropy — that sees a problem and immediately attempts to tackle it.

Ultimately, when you look at many of the issues that Zuckerberg is focused on — from spreading the internet to small villages around the globe, to building a better education system in the United States, and advocating for a more just immigration system — each focus area relates back to his vision for a more open and connected world.

In order for people to live their best lives and to use their gifts they need all of these social and human initiatives, which, in the end, will create a more innovative, inclusive, and idealistic society — not just in the United States, but around the world. People need to know that their voices are being heard, that they have the same opportunities to learn and grow, and most importantly, to thrive. This is a vision that an idealistic, risk-taking entrepreneur and philanthropist like Mark Zuckerberg can spearhead and ultimately grow into something magical — not just for our generation, but for generations to come.


Former AD for the Prez @RockefellerFdn and Co-Impact. @CityYearDC @amprog @dcpublicschools @BPC_Bipartisan Alum #Policy #SocialChange #Biz @UofTampa grad

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Joshua Aaron Murphy

Former AD for the Prez @RockefellerFdn and Co-Impact. @CityYearDC @amprog @dcpublicschools @BPC_Bipartisan Alum #Policy #SocialChange #Biz @UofTampa grad