Facebook CEO unveils education foundation

Attracting scrutiny from critics who think it's a big PR stunt, young billionaire Mark Zuckerberg makes good on his word to donate $100 million to the school system in Newark, N.J.

Caroline McCarthy Former Staff writer, CNET News
Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, is a downtown Manhattanite happily addicted to social-media tools and restaurant blogs. Her pre-CNET resume includes interning at an IT security firm and brewing cappuccinos.
Caroline McCarthy
3 min read

As expected, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg unveiled today the creation of "Startup: Education" a charitable foundation to "improve educational opportunities for young people in America." Its first project, to be announced later today on The Oprah Winfrey Show, is a $100 million donation to support the public school system in the troubled city of Newark, N.J.

Zuckerberg will appear on the syndicated talk show with Newark mayor Cory Booker and New Jersey governor Chris Christie, where they will announce the joint Partnership for Education in Newark.

"Mayor Booker and Governor Christie refuse to accept the status quo in public education," Zuckerberg said in a release. "They insist on demanding more for young people now so that they will be fully prepared for success in college, careers and in life. Each of these leaders is prepared to make bold commitments that will make Newark a symbol of education reform. Their personal commitments--and their willingness to cut through the politics and red tape to collaborate--persuaded me to support them and make a commitment of my own."

In conjunction, Booker is spearheading a new Newark Education and Youth Development Fund, another non-profit, which will attempt to match Zuckerberg's $100 million through donations and grants, plus an additional $50 million.

Zuckerberg elaborated upon the nature of the donation in a conference call with reporters later on Friday. "I'm putting some of my Facebook stock into a foundation," he explained. "The foundation will then sell it off to raise cash, and then the cash will be used to fund the project, and the plan that the governor and the mayor are putting together, contingent on getting the results that we want to get and on getting the matching $100 million as well."

The timing of the announcement has been criticized. On Friday night, the New York Film Festival will feature the official premiere of "The Social Network," the David Fincher-directed film about Facebook's origins that portrays Zuckerberg as scheming, backstabbing, and self-centered. Some have also speculated that the 26-year-old Zuckerberg hastily pushed a charitable initiative out the door as a public relations counterbalance to his high ranking on Forbes' magazine's annual list of billionaires, in which he is placed ahead of the likes of Apple CEO Steve Jobs.

But these critics have had critics themselves: Oprah Winfrey has been featuring education reform on her talk show all week, and the acclaimed new documentary "Waiting for Superman" has brought the issue to the forefront. David Kirkpatrick, author of the Facebook-authorized biography "The Facebook Effect," wrote a piece for The Daily Beast this morning in which he insisted that Zuckerberg had "wanted very much to delay the announcement but ultimately conceded, pressured by Booker and Christie, thinking he might potentially help Newark's schools more than if he waited."

In the conference call, Zuckerberg said that he considered making the donation anonymous to avoid putting his name even further into the press on the cusp of "The Social Network" and its release. "The timing was really driven by the needs of Newark," he said.

Booker added in the conference call that there had been "some tense moments" in choosing the timing. "The governor and I were really pressing to go faster and quicker...The movie actually became a complication because Mark's team did not think that it would be good for him to make an announcement during this time...We really had to go through long hauls to convince his people not to do this anonymously."

With regard to the broader plans for Startup: Education, Zuckerberg was hesitant to say too much; he stressed that because he runs Facebook full-time, he will not be running a foundation as well. An acting director for Startup: Education, he said, is already active and working in Newark, and a search for a full-time director has "already begun."

Zuckerberg's new foundation is also generating excitement from other entrepreneurs. Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, now at the helm of e-commerce start-up Square and a prominent angel investor, announced that he was donating $5,000 to the Partnership for Education in Newark and is encouraging other Square users to contribute as well.

This post was expanded at 11:04 a.m. PT.