A Closer Look at the New Ed Giving of Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan

We report a lot on the philanthropy of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Dr. Priscilla Chan at IP. With a net worth of $41 billion and an ever-evolving philanthropic portfolio spanning health, technology, immigration reform, and education, Zuckerberg and Chan are among the most important leaders in a new generation of philanthropists. A year ago, we named them the seventh most powerful couple in philanthropy. Today, it's fair to say, they'd be higher up on such a list. 

Related: Meet the 9 Most Powerful Couples in U.S. Philanthropy 

Last year, Zuckerberg and Chan, through their grantmaking organization Startup:Education, announced a pledge of $120 million to improve public education within the San Francisco Bay Area. No stranger to the cause, Zuckerberg has been criticized for his past education reform giving. We called his involvement in Newark "Mark Zuckerberg's Vietnam." But despite that setback, and perhaps thanks to the “embrace failure” mantra ingrained in entrepreneurial culture, Zuckerberg has showed no signs of scaling back his work in the education space.

In a new update from Startup:Education that surfaced last week, we got our first glimpse of where that $120 million has gone, and what we can expect from Zuckerberg and Chan going forward.

In the announcement on—where else?—their Facebook page, the group outlined a fairly detailed giving philosophy with a number of priorities: school leaders, local districts, personalized learning, broadband Internet, and college access for first-generation Americans.

A number of these are familiar themes among tech philanthropists working in the ed space. Personalized learning—which stresses customized instruction for students—is particularly hot right now among such donors, and Startup:Education has given support to NewSchools Venture Fund, the tech-backed ed group at the forefront of efforts to harness technology to advance that goal. 

Related: Which Funders Are Leading the Growing Push for Blended Learning in K-12

Zuckerberg and Chan are also among the gazillion newer ed philanthropists who are giving money to Teach for America, with the goal of ensuring "a strong pipeline of future educators and leaders in the underserved communities where we’re working." But they're betting on other human capital outfits, too, like Education Pioneers and the National Academy of Advanced Teacher Education. Of course, money is also flowing to charter schools from Startup:Education, including Summit Public SchoolsKIPP Bay Area Schools, Voices College-Bound Language Academy, and Alpha Public Schools.

It's not just charters that are receiving funds, though, as is often the case. Support has also gone to public districts in the region. 

Education philanthropy is as complicated a space as it is crowded—something Zuckerberg has likely figured out by now, the hard way. In contrast to the big Newark bet, Zuck and Chan and are building a diversified portfolio of grantees here. Perhaps they're thinking a bit like venture capitalists: Invest in a bunch of stuff and see what really works. 

What remains most notable about Zuckerberg/Chan philanthropy is the local focus of this $120 milion investment. While Startup:Education has also put some money into national organizations, and the couple also gave to help contain Ebola last year, it's clear they want to have impact in their home region—with a focus on its most disadvantaged residents. 

Earlier this year,  Zuckerberg and Chan made $75 million gift to San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center, the only public hospital in San Francisco that provides trauma and psychiatric emergency services to city residents.

Related: Mark Zuckerberg's Philanthropy Comes Into Sharper Focus

Depending on your views about the evolution of the Bay Area, you might say Zuckerberg is just paying his dues for his part in the skyrocketing rents and displaced residents who have been disadvantaged as a result of an influx of rich techies like himself.  And, to be sure, criticism of techies and a sensitivity to the region's inequities has been a driver of some of the new philanthropy by this community. 

So what’s next for one of philanthropy’s youngest power couples? The short-view answer may lie with Chan, who seems to have significant sway in the couple’s overall giving approach. A pediatrician at San Francisco General Hospital (the recent beneficiary of Zuckerberg and Chan’s generosity) Priscilla’s commitment to healthy child development seems a likely target for the couple’s next big philanthropic venture.

Taking the long view, however, as Zuckerberg and Chan mature in their philanthropy, they seem likely to continue shaking up the young entrepreneurial giving scene. With the bar set high, the couple is leading by example, compelling a new generation of Silicon Valley tech billionaires to consider what kind of legacy they intend to leave behind.