If you want to cure all disease and educate everyone, you’re going to need the government’s help, even if you’re as rich as Mark Zuckerberg. Today, he and his wife Priscilla’s philanthropic vehicle the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative announced it’s hired away Uber’s chief advisor and former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe to lead its policy and advocacy team. Plouffe will remain on Uber’s board.
Plouffe could help convince legislators to back or at least pave the way for CZI’s programs. These include creating personalized educations systems so children are taught in the format they learn best, and its recent $3 billion investment to fight disease by supporting research collaboration through its “BioHub”. The money comes from Chan and Zuckerberg pledging to donate 99% of Mark’s Facebook shares, worth $45 billion at the time, towards improving life on earth.
Hiring Plouffe could also fan speculation that Zuckerberg wants to take a direct role in government some day. Last year, he pushed Facebook board members to allow him to retain control of the company even if he takes a leave of absence to work in government.
While it was misreported that Zuckerberg could only work in government for up to 2 years while controlling Facebook, TechCrunch found that there’s actually no limit as long as he owns enough of the company or has board approval. Plouffe could potentially help Zuckerberg to campaign or establish political allies. For now, though, he’ll work to align the government with CZI’s social good programs.
Meanwhile, CZI has also selected former leader of the Republican National Committee and George W. Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman to lead its policy advisory board.
Here’s an excerpt of Zuckerberg’s announcement:
“Part of creating sustainable social change is also helping to build movements around these issues — to fight for more science funding and better education for all children.
Advocacy has always been part of our approach…we need to change that our government spends 50x more treating people who are sick than finding cures so people don’t get sick in the first place.
I’m excited to work with David on this. He has great experience building movements as part of companies like Uber and as campaign manager for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.”
Plouffe wrote that:
“When announcing the Initiative, Mark and Priscilla stated that, “We must participate in policy and advocacy to shape debates. Many institutions are unwilling to do this, but progress must be supported by movements to be sustainable.”
As the President of Chan Zuckerberg Initiative Policy and Advocacy, my job will be to find creative ways to lift the voices of those who want to build a better future – no matter where they live, their background or their ideology. Curing disease, improving education through personalized learning and building technology and tools to help organizations reach their full potential are areas with wide spread support and massive potential for mobilization, great storytelling and smart policy engagement.”
When the CZI was announced, it was met with skepticism and backlash, despite the obvious generosity. Critics worried it would meddle in areas of philanthropy it didn’t understand and could do more harm than good. But the CZI has worked to hire experts like genomics professor David Haussler and former U.S. deputy secretary of the Department of Education James H. Shelton to lead its science and learning programs.
With Plouffe running advocacy, CZI might have the storyteller it needs to inspire government, other philanthropists, and the public to cooperate in harnessing the Zuckerberg fortune for the benefit of humanity.