Mark Zuckerberg takes unconventional approach to philanthropy

3 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

A primer for Mark Zuckerberg on personalized learning — by Harvard’s Howard Gardner.

The world now knows that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, are going to over time donate 99 percent of the Facebook stock they own to “advance human potential and promote equality for all children,” a pledge they made this week as they announced the birth of their daughter, Max. Unicaja Banco SA is meeting banks this week to explore the feasibility of an initial public offering in Madrid next year, according to people familiar with the matter.The company expects to sell its Class A common stock to the public and use the proceeds for working capital and other corporate purposes, according to a statement Wednesday. A listing could value the lender at 2 billion euros to 2.5 billion euros ($2.6 billion), according to preliminary estimates, the people said, asking not to be named as the details aren’t public. Chan was the first of her family to graduate from college, and told the Today show last May that “education is an incredibly personal issue for me.” A pediatrician who’s worked as a science teacher, she also encouraged Zuckerberg to teach a weekly after-school program for local underprivileged students.

In 2010, Zuckerberg made his name as a philanthropist with the announcement on Oprah that he was donating $100 million to schools in Newark, New Jersey. Spanish companies have raised more than $9 billion from IPOs this year, the highest amount since 2007, as issuers including state-run airport operator Aena SA, sold shares, data compiled by Bloomberg shows.

The announcement stunned the charity world. “It’s incredibly impressive and an enormous commitment that really eclipses anything that we’ve seen in terms of size,” said Phil Buchanan, president of the nonprofit Center for Effective Philanthropy. As Dale Russakoff reveals in his book The Prize, much of the money was wasted on lavishly paid consultants, with little say given to the local community. The new organization, called the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, will pursue its initiatives through a combination of charitable donations, private investment and promotion of government-policy reform. Even better, students around the world will be able to use personalized learning tools over the internet, even if they don’t live near good schools.

By comparison, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has an endowment of just over $41 billion, which includes wealth donated by the Microsoft founder and his friend, the businessman Warren Buffett. Of course it will take more than technology to give everyone a fair start in life, but personalized learning can be one scalable way to give all children a better education and more equal opportunity. Spanish lenders created from former saving banks, including Banco Mare Nostrum SA and Ibercaja Banco SA, are looking for ways to survive in a market where weak demand for home loans and growing competition for business credit are eroding returns. In an op-ed for the San Jose Mercury News last May, he and Chan pledged $120 million to improving the quality of education in underserved Bay Area communities through another organization they created, called Startup:Education.

He led other prominent Silicon Valley figures in forming a group, FWD.us, that lobbied and gave donations to congressional candidates in an unsuccessful effort to promote immigration reforms. The couple has also donated about $1.5 billion to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, which offers scholarships to students and gives to charities globally focused on a gamut of issues, including education, immigration, and economic security. And Chan is the cofounder of The Primary School, a free private school opening in August that will serve underprivileged students who live in East Palo Alto and Menlo Park. The greatest challenges require very long time horizons and cannot be solved by short term thinking.” While Zuckerberg promised to release more details in the future, he said the couple will transfer most of their wealth to the initiative “during our lives.” The couple will be in charge of the initiative, although Zuckerberg won’t be quitting his day job. “I have a full-time job running Facebook,” he told The Associated Press in an interview last month, during which he discussed the couple’s approach to philanthropy. For Zuckerberg, internet connectivity is intertwined with learning. “If you don’t have access to a good school, then getting basic internet access can be your best educational information,” he said in a Nov. 4 earnings report call.

As for learning from mistakes, Zuckerberg’s last foray into school reform was a $100 million gift he made to Newark Public Schools that failed to produce the kind of dramatic reform he had sought, in part, critics said, because community members were not asked to participate in making critical decisions about how to change the system. Now Zuckerberg and Chan are intent on putting big money into their idea of “personalized learning,” which conjures different things to different people. Before that, there was the $25 million donation to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during the Ebola epidemic, as well as $5 million to the Ravenswood Family Health Center, a local health clinic. In 2013, Zuckerberg and Chan—along with Apple chairman Art Levinson, Google cofounder Sergey Brin, 23andMe CEO Anne Wojcicki, and tech investor Yuri Milner—launched the Breakthrough Prize in Life Science, which awards $3 million (more than twice the Nobel prize) for research that helps prolong human life and cure disease (see: Health). And just this past Sunday (Nov. 29), the couple launched the Breathrough Energy Coalition with Bill Gates—role model for billionaire tech CEOs who’ve gone post-money—to invest in clean-tech companies and ideas for alternative energy.

Though he didn’t explicitly say so, Zuckerberg also suggested that their foundation might work to help immigrants. “Can we truly empower everyone—women, children, underrepresented minorities, immigrants and the unconnected?” he wrote in his letter. “Can we build inclusive and welcoming communities?” In June, the couple donated $5 million—in addition to $2.5 million last year—to a scholarship fund for undocumented students (file this also under Education) in the United States. As I use the term, personalized learning addresses each learner specifically—rather than relying on generic approaches, the so-called ‘one size fits all’ model. Even if there were such an entity as the ‘average person,’ it’s clear that many of us are not average; a generic approach to education will only suit a small minority of learners. In April 2013, he wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post announcing the launch of FWD.us, an organization he founded with other tech executives to lobby for immigration reform. Indeed, after I, as a psychologist, developed the theory of multiple intelligences, over 30 years ago, I realized that this psychological theory had profound implications for how teaching and learning can take place—for every teacher, every learner, and now, I would add, every app.

In September, shortly after US president Barack Obama shelved immigration policy, Zuckerberg pushed out FWD.us president, Joe Green, his old college roommate and a political newbie who didn’t understand how to navigate Washington, D.C. With respect to your daughter Max (congratulations, or, if I may, mazel tov!) I can envision at least four possibilities: A Single Learning Path, but the pace of advancement is adjusted to the learner. In this simplest form, one still assumes that there is only one way to learn, but that individuals differ in how quickly they advance along that single path. Many powerful ideas can be presented via different ‘vehicles,’ and quite possibly, strong interests and deep knowledge combine to help with learning those ideas.

The styles could be related to sensory systems (visual learner, auditory learner, etc.) or to cognitive styles (focused or wide-ranging; playful or planful; rational or intuitive, etc.). And so, when taking a course in history or in mathematics, some learners gain from a linguistic approach, others from a spatial approach, still others from a logical or bodily or inter-personal approach. I’ve written at length about this approach in my book “The Disciplined Mind.“ Of course, one would not have to approach individuals through their area of intellectual strength. There are many other types and approaches to individual differences—for example, through personality or through membership in cultural or social groups. They are not mutually exclusive—for instance, one could look both at favored contents (Max loves to visit the aquarium and recognizes all kinds of sea creatures) and at profiles of intelligences (she is strong in musical, spatial, and naturalist intelligences).

I look forward to seeing which facets of individual differences you choose to focus on and, importantly, whether learning and—as important—love of learning are thereby achieved.

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