The Wednesday Pop Culture Rant has a day job in the nonprofit industrial complex. This comes as a surprise to many people as they believe we just hibernate in a hyperbaric rant chamber that pumps in high pressure snarkiness. Believing you can make the world a better place and enjoying the threat to civilization puppy-monkey-baby poses are not mutually exclusive categories. We’ve never understood the notion that hand-wringing and heavy sighing makes one more virtuous.
Currently the philanthropic world is aflutter over the news that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan will give away the vast portion of their wealth, currently valued at around $45 billion. They made their plans known in an open letter they wrote to their new daughter on Facebook. The letter contains enough hubris to power 8,416 Greek tragedies. The Rant can never get enough of the Millennial need to overshare in the name of sincerity and inspiration. The proud parents inform their daughter they will be solving all the world’s problems for her generation. You’re welcome.
What Zuckerberg and Chan fail to mention is that they are sort of giving away their fortune. Shares of Facebook will go into a for-profit LLC and then the couple will decide how to spend it: sometimes directly to charities and sometime to for-profit ventures they believe will have a positive social impact. And also make them more money. This way they will not have the spending requirements of a foundation and they will not have to file public documents of where the money goes. All this in the name of “flexibility.” But Zuckerberg Chan belong to the genius culture of Silicon Valley and are busting out of the box and technology will make all things good and pure and unicorns and rainbows will feed the poor and eradicate disease so don’t worry. The Rant always wonders how these glorious innovations that are used to troll strangers and create memes will somehow solve real problems.
Zuckerberg’s first foray into Big Giving involved a $100 million gift to fix Newark, NJ’s school system. The gift was announced and heralded before the school board, parents, teachers, and students had any inkling it was coming. Outside consultants then ate up most of the money and nothing really happened. Newark was not amused.
This week Zuckerberg suffered another setback when his plan to save humanity through the Internets was shut down in India. Turns out the “free” internet service being offered on mobile devices only contained the weather, job listings, and Facebook, creating a digital ghetto where you could frolic among the Facebook ads. Which makes Zuckerberg more money. Strange how that keeps happening.
The Rant appreciates that Zuckerberg Chan understand that it takes years to produce real change. The curse of the prior generation’s philanthropy has been the insistence that a one-time infusion of cash into a shiny new program will solve issues embedded deep in a culture. The foundation moves on while leaving underfunded programs and organizations in its wake that cannot sustain the initial burst of positive results. This approach impacts real people not data points on a graph.
Those amassing great wealth in America have always had a complicated relationship with charity. Andrew Carnegie tried to project an image of benign philanthropy later in life after he had exploited the very people he sought to help, including busting a few heads if the situation in his mind warranted it. Bill and Melinda Gates have moved from one education solution to another, often paying local organizers to pretend grassroots support exists when schools bristle at the intrusion.
Perhaps Zuckerberg and Chan could have written their letter and buried it in a time capsule. Then they could quietly work to make all the wondrous changes it promises come true. Their elderly daughter could unearth the missive decades from now to marvel at her parents’ audacity and humility and success.