Beyond Charity

Our breakdowns are too systemic to be solved by “charity” but the idea of these new millionaires embracing real social entrepreneurship is a good one.

From Open Forum–On Facebook IPO

Manjunath Kiran / AFP/Getty Images
The ‘Facebook’ logo is reflected in a young Indian woman’s sunglasses as she browses on a tablet in Bangalore on May 15, 2012. World’s popular and leading social networking company Facebook Inc., founded in a Harvard dorm room by Mark Zuckerberg whose current value exceeds 100 billion USD, will be making an initial public offering (IPO) which is slated to be Silicon Valley’s biggest-ever. AFP PHOTO/Manjunath KIRANManjunath Kiran/AFP/GettyImages 

Facebook is going public on Friday. The company’s market valuation at the end of its first day of trading could top $100 billion. Instantly, scores of Facebook employees will become millionaires.

But what happens the following day? These newly wealthy folks will eventually have to ask themselves an important question: What should I do with this money?

As a couple who was fortunate enough to face that question when we benefited from Juniper Networks’ IPO more than a decade ago, we would urge Facebook’s employees to consider devoting a share of their newfound wealth to philanthropy.

They are well suited to charitable giving, but not just because they have money. They’ve proved that they rapidly can build a successful, innovative organization from scratch – as well as identify needs within a community and then meet them. Skills like these are crucial to solving the difficult social, scientific and political problems plaguing our world today.

The beneficiaries of Facebook’s IPO will soon find themselves with seemingly limitless options for their money. Previously unimaginable lifestyles will be within reach – but so will the ability to help people and causes in life-changing ways. And while it may be tempting to take care of all the friends and family who come calling, an ad hoc approach to charity can grow overwhelming – and lead to well-intentioned but counterproductive giving.

We chose to establish a nonprofit foundation to give our philanthropy a focused mission and structure – and to ensure that our good intentions yielded positive results.

In the same way, Facebookers who choose charity can take the lessons they’ve learned in their professional pursuits and apply them to their philanthropic goals.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation provides an instructive model. It has a history of thoughtful, targeted and effective philanthropy. Metrics for success are clearly defined, and resources flow where those metrics indicate they can have the greatest impact.

The Gates foundation’s investments in vaccinations and antibiotics have saved millions of lives and generated billions in economic activity in Africa. But it has also admitted disappointing results from investments in small schools – and has worked to figure out why.

Such willingness to try new approaches to solving social problems – and to evaluate candidly whether they’re working – comes directly out of the culture of entrepreneurship embodied by Facebook and other Silicon Valley firms.

This week, many of Facebook’s employees will find themselves with newfound riches. They should enjoy the fruits of their labor.

But the world also needs their smarts – and their resources. Putting some of that money toward philanthropy could change the world – perhaps even more than their company has.

Kerry Olson and Dave Katz are co-founders of the Firelight Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works to improve the well-being of children made vulnerable by HIV, AIDS and poverty in sub-Saharan Africa.

This article appeared on page A – 16 of the San Francisco Chronicle

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