Mark Zuckerberg to donate 99 percent of Facebook shares to ‘advance human potential’

“Charity begins at home.” And, that’s what the billionaire founder and CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg has done.

To celebrate the new arrival of their new daughter, Max, he and his wife Priscilla Chan, have decided to give away 99 percent of his Facebook Inc (FB.O) shares, currently worth more than $60 billion, over the course of the rest of their lives.

They said they are doing this to “further the mission of advancing human potential” and to promote “equality by means of philanthropic, public advocacy, and other activities for the public good”.

The pledge, which was posted on Zuckerberg’s Facebook page got more than 570,000 “likes,” including from singer Shakira, former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Melinda Gates, wife of Microsoft founder Bill Gates. The Gates and other high-profile billionaires such as Warren Buffett have set up foundations of their own to dedicate their massive fortunes to philanthropic endeavors.

The pledge was made in an open letter to their newborn daughter, Max, who was born about a week ago, the new parents said they would transfer 99 percent of their shares in the social network to the “Chan Zuckerberg Initiative”, a new vehicle they have established that would initially be focused on promoting “personalised leaning, curing disease, connecting people and building strong communities”.

Through the venture, Zuckerberg and Chan have already donated $120m to support education in underserved communities in San Francisco; $75m to the Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital; $25m to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to fight Ebola and $100m to the Newark Public School System.

“Like all parents, we want you to grow up in a world better than ours today,” they wrote in the letter. “But right now, we don’t always collectively direct our resources at the biggest opportunities and problems your generation will face.”

“Consider disease. Today we spend about 50 times more as a society treating people who are sick than we invest in research so you won’t get sick in the first place.”

The couple’s latest proposals include personalised learning via technology, preventing diseases and giving everyone in the world access to the internet.

“More than half of the world’s population – more than 4bn people – don’t have access to the internet,” Zuckerberg wrote. “If our generation connects them, we can lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty.”

Zuckerberg, 31, who will control the new initiative jointly with his wife, Priscilla Chan, while remaining in charge of the world’s largest online social network, said he would sell or give up to $1 billion in shares in each of the next three years.

Under the US laws, the Chan Zuckerberg Initative will be structured as a limited liability company rather than a nonprofit or foundation, which would allow it “to go beyond making philanthropic grants” and do things like invest in companies, lobby for legislation and influence policy debates, noted The New York Times.

Valued at $303 billion as of yesterday, Zuckerberg will keep a controlling stake in Facebook, for what the company called the “foreseeable future.” According to Facebook’s most recent proxy statement, Zuckerberg owned 4 million Class A shares and 422.3 million Class B shares, which have 10 times the voting power of A shares. Combined he held 54 percent of the voting power of the company’s shares.

Zuckerberg said he plans to remain CEO of Facebook for “many, many years to come.”

Zuckerberg and his wife joined Bill Gates’ and Warren Buffett’s billionaires’ The Giving Pledge movement last month, saying they were “proud to be part of its declaration that those who have been fortunate should give back at least half of their wealth during their lifetimes.”

But the Facebook billionaire’s announcement today seems to take corporate philanthropy to a new level.

Bill Gates, the former Microsoft CEO and still the world’s richest man with an estimated wealth of $84.6 billion, pledged to give away most of his fortune to charity when he stepped down from the company behind the Windows operating system in 2008.

Warren Buffett, the legendary billionaire US investor and the world’s third-richest man, has also pledged to give much of his fortune away.

Zuckerberg’s new project, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, is not his first in the world of philanthropy. When he was 26, he signed the Giving Pledge, which invites the world’s wealthiest individuals and families to commit to giving more than half of their wealth to philanthropy or charitable causes over their lifetime or in their will.

“Mark and Priscilla are breaking the mold with this breathtaking commitment,” Buffett said on Facebook. “A combination of brains, passion and resources on this scale will change the lives of millions. On behalf of future generations, I thank them.”

Melinda Gates too wrote, “The first word that comes to mind is: Wow. The example you’re setting today is an inspiration to us and the world. We can be confident of this: Max and every child born today will grow up in a world that is better than the one we know now. As you say, ‘seeds planted now will grow’. Your work will bear fruit for many decades to come”.

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