Op-ed: Open letter to Max Chan Zuckerberg

By Akhtar Badshah, special to Humanosphere

Max, welcome to the world. You are indeed one of the few very fortunate babies to be born in an environment of so much love, caring and unlimited opportunities. Not every child who was born with you will be that fortunate.

Your mother and father made a wonderful gift on your behalf to the world by launching the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative – it was interesting that it was not named the other way around. Your parents care deeply about the world and they have a very mature and equal partnership. Furthermore they are committed to ensuring the world is a better place not just for you to grow up in but also for millions of other children who will grow up alongside you.

It is also very impressive that in today’s environment of wanting quick results your parents are taking a long-term view and have selected areas that can have long term-transformation. They also understand that their contribution – quite large by any standard is still a small piece in the overall development equation. They are also smart to start locally in California especially for personalized learning efforts.

Your parents are undoubtedly surrounded by some very smart and astute people who will provide them with input and advice along their very long and exciting journey. I am hoping you will provide them the following input:

  1. They now have the ability to focus on transformation and not just disruption. This does not preclude them from innovating but the innovation should come with the goal of transformation – especially when they are interested in improving personalized learning, curing diseases, connecting people and building strong communities. It may be tempting to focus on the role of technology to solve massive problems but it is also important for them to invest in technological solutions and it can be transformative rather than just disruptive. Given they are already thinking of long term over a five-, 10-, 20-year horizon they can change the current conversation from the over focus on disruption to being transformation.
  2. This is also an opportunity for them to focus on policy and exploring partnerships with key groups and organizations to leverage the right policy change for innovation to become transformative. If they want to transform the communities you, Max, will grow up in, then policy has to play a central role. That is actually in some ways opposite to what is happening in the tech business community where new businesses are butting heads against existing policy.
  3. With the kind of spotlight on the Initiative it will be tempting for them to look for solutions that provide quick wins and to hit a grand slam (borrowing from a baseball analogy), because hitting a grand slam is what personifies success in today’s hyper-competitive environment given the huge sums of money they are committing. However, if they really think about it from the people/community they are trying to benefit, singles (small meaningful transformation) matters more than a huge win – a grand slam.

We are going through enormous changes in society and many of them have been driven by access to and development of technology; especially information technology that your parents have been an integral part of. These changes are disruptive and are leading to an increasing gap between how we invest in social causes and the phenomenon of social action.

The Institute for the Future (IFTF) calls this the “second curve” philanthropy, where one or few individuals can attempt to create change on scale that was previously inconceivable, or only a large organization or entity could undertake. There are many examples of the second curve such as the Ice Bucket Challenge, Protests in Hong Kong, the Maghreb revolution – Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, even ISIS, – many of them have had great initial success, but are either hard to replicate, as in the case of the Ice Bucket Challenge, or moving from mass demonstration to stable changed governance system as in the case of Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.

For the future of philanthropy to continue to create social impact we will have to resolve the large gap between organized philanthropy as we know it and the second curve philanthropy of social action. This is very important as the amount of money that will flow into second curve philanthropy will increase substantially in the first half of the 21st century and your parents have just added a massive amount to that pool.

My hope is that your parents and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative will take the opportunity to build bridges between the first and second curve philanthropies with the investments they make and become a model for others to follow; just like Carnegie, Rockefeller and Ford were to Gates and other social investors of my generation. The hope is that your parents can become effective bridge builders with their investment and change the conversation – think transformation, policy and singles.

Wishing you and your parents an amazing journey of making slow, yet transformative, change.

mugAkhtar Badshah, PhD, is founder and CEO of Catalytic Innovators Group, a consulting firm focused on accelerating social impact. His current work focuses on issues related to ‘democratizing innovation,’ ‘disruptive technology,’ and catalytic philanthropy, in addition to curating The Seattle Philanthropy Forum and The Impact Creative. Most recently, he led Microsoft global philanthropic efforts where he administered the company’s global community investment and employee programs, supporting programs and organizations that address the needs of communities worldwide. Badshah is an author, speaker and a doctoral graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he also taught architecture and urban development. Twitter: Akhtarbad

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