How Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg are investing their social-change billions



By Dennis Price and David Bank

If and when the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative becomes one of the biggest private social-change funders in history, these early days will be seen as signals of their intentions — and their methods.

The Facebook founder and his wife have pledged to eventually commit 99% of their shares in the company to the LLC, a structure that, unlike a foundation, allows the firm to make grants as well as investments and acquisitions, as well as to influence policy.

Their intentions are apparent in a series of deals since the initiative was announced in late 2015. The biggest bets have been in science and medicine (a $3 billion commitment “to end all disease,” anchored by the $600 million pledge to Biohub at UCSF) and to education, with an emphasis on tech-driven learning for all children.

Coming up from behind appears to be affordable housing, social justice and equity. Axios released today a report that nicely tops up ImpactAlpha’s ongoing coverage of CZI’s activity.

Early deals

Andela and New Profit are among more than 20 investments in education. CZI has backed Brightwheel, an all-in-one administrative tool for early educators, Camelback Ventures, a nonprofit incubator supporting underrepresented entrepreneurs, and NewSchools Venture Fund, a venture philanthropy fund that finances and supports education entrepreneurs.

In addition to Biohub, CZI has backed Human Cell Atlas and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Using its flexible structure, the initiative acquired research aggregator Meta, an artificial intelligence tool to connect connect research across diseases, pathways and treatments by scanning medical journals.

Chan and Zuck appear to believe that affordable housing begins at home, backing three Bay Area organizations to boost affordable housing, including Landed, which helps teachers buy homes in the Bay Area’s high-priced housing market. CZI also funded Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto and the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at UC Berkeley. CZI joined Google.org and a half-dozen other funders in backing Measures for Justice, which is creating a platform to track how local criminal justice systems treat people based on ethnicity, sex, indigent status, age and offense history.

The amount of most investments, and CZI’s total spending, remains unknown. The initiative’s structure as a limited liability company allows it to escape reporting requirements of tax-advantaged foundations. Other philanthropic investors such as Pierre and Pam Omidyar’s Omidyar Network and Laurene Powell Jobs’ Emerson Collective pioneered the model. Chan and Zuckerberg may be taking it to unprecedented scale.

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