Priscilla Chan and The Future of Inclusive Philanthropy

Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg visiting Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto in 2014. (cc:2.0)

She’s young, she’s highly educated, and she likes to be involved in funding strategy  — all traits that suggest Priscilla Chan will be making an enormous impact on philanthropy over the next decade and beyond.

“Chan is a hands-on leader of Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), taking charge of many of the day-to-day operational details of scaling up a large philanthropic enterprise,” David Callahan recently told me. Callahan is founder and publisher of Inside Philanthropy, and interviewed Chan for his new book, The Givers, due out in April 11th.

“Chan has spent all of her adult life as a front-line practitioner working with vulnerable families, and brings that mindset and experience to CZI,” observed Callahan. “You can see that most recently in the new housing initiative to stop low-income families from being displaced in Silicon Valley.”

Priscilla Chan is only getting started on her philanthropy journey, and yet some of ways she is doing things suggest a very different trajectory for the future. While Melinda Gates, at about age 50, arrived at a more defined plan to make gender equity central to her work, we don’t know yet where gender equality will land in Priscilla Chan’s list of priorities. In the video below, she credits Ruth Bader Ginsburg as her feminist role model, which suggests she takes seriously the progressive agenda for women, including access to health care and contraception, and equal pay for equal work.

It All Hinges on Inclusiveness  — and That’s Where Feminism Comes In

The Chan-Zuckerberg vision of a better world appears to be strongly aligned with the feminist philanthropy agenda of inclusiveness and equality.

“Could we build more inclusive and welcoming communities?” asks Zuckerberg, in this video with Chan in which he talks about his “basic moral responsibility” to make investments that will move us toward this more inclusive community.

Helen LaKelly Hunt, longtime funder of women’s philanthropy and seed investor in the New York Women’s Foundation, the Dallas Foundation, and the Women’s Funding Network, also thinks Priscilla Chan is bringing something new — and important — to philanthropy: the ability to be more relational in strategic planning.

“Priscilla and Mark are modeling strategic philanthropy – not just in terms of how the funds land, but in how they are doing philanthropy. They are doing it in a relational way,” said Helen LaKelly Hunt, in a recent  interview with Philanthropy Women. Helen is author of the forthcoming title, And the Spirit Moved Them, due out on April 17th, which tells the lost history of feminism’s earliest roots — finding that racial equality as well as gender equality were on the original agenda of the earliest suffragettes.

“There is great power in unleashing your money into the world toward cultural transformation. Priscilla and Mark are doing this in a way that it is also transformational, and radical – they are doing it together in partnership,” emphasized Hunt.

“Funding in partnership is not always easy, but the union of perspectives make for a richer outcome, and more vital and effective work,” added Hunt, who, along with her husband Harville Hendrix, created Imago Couples Therapy and have recently launched a new initiative to help couples called Safe Conversations.

In the interview at Forbes 2016 Women’s Summit, Priscilla described how Mark helps her stay focused on goals, and she plays a complementary role for him by giving him the context of real world people encountered as patients or students.

“I force him to learn more about — what’s the context? What are we trying to do? Who are the people involved? What are the cultures that we are trying to work with? How can we learn more from the people already doing the work?”

“In all honesty, it’s really fun, and we have a lot to learn from each other,” said Chan. Translation: Chan gets that philanthropy is pretty much the most fun you can have in life, and she’s excited that she gets to do it with Zuckerberg. This is a huge shift in how men and women in high net worth couples have traditionally functioned. What was once a conversation between couples often dominated by men is now a lively exchange where two people challenge each other’s ideas in order to reach a more informed conclusion.

“We are complementary, and we drive each other and really challenge each other to think more deeply about the questions that we’re faced with,” Chan said.

Here’s Where It All Links Up: Health Care, Feminism, and the Future of Inclusive Philanthropy

So why am I telling this story and raising the visibility of Priscilla Chan for women in philanthropy? (By the way, I did attempt to contact Priscilla Chan for an interview through LinkedIn, where she is listed as a member of the staff of The Primary School, but I did not receive a response. I will be sending her a link to this post, and I hope she will consider responding in the future.)

I am talking about this because Priscilla Chan helps illustrate the story of how feminism is changing philanthropy. Priscilla Chan comes to her philanthropy as a doctor who has already practiced for a number of years and has seen close-up what today’s problems look like. She is also a feminist, and I would argue that her feminism is destined to grow, as she becomes a mother to two girls soon, and parents them in their journey to adulthood.

Access to health care is at the top of the agenda for many progressive and feminist foundations, and I believe (full disclosure: I am also a health care provider as an LICSW therapist) health care should continue to be on top of the agenda for women in philanthropy. Leaders like Priscilla Chan get the importance of health care in a profound way, explaining why the CZI’s biohub is now investing $50 million in 47 new initiatives aimed at tackling health problems.  CZI is also investing in strategies to bring more inclusiveness to education and housing access.

With leaders like Priscilla Chan giving to the fight both for health care and for gender equality, we will be more likely to move the policy agenda toward a civil society where all have are treated equally, and all have equal access to health care as a public good.

The Future of Inclusive Philanthropy

Chan embodies what could be the dawn of a new era of Inclusive Philanthropy. The market economies and the democratic systems that govern the world are beginning to recognize the importance of inclusiveness, and this is partially due to efforts of both progressives and feminists to open the door to inclusiveness of all kinds. Many multinational corporations such as Bank of America, Barclay’s, Walmart, and Coca-Cola, all supporting workplaces that are more inclusive of LGBT communitites, and have set goals for achieving gender equity in hiring and pay. More governments are recognizing same sex marriage and calling for an end to laws which discriminate based on race or gender.

In addition, organizations like CZI appear to be tasking themselves with the agenda of building more inclusive societies. But while the agenda of CZI appears very liberal and both Mark and Priscilla talk clearly about wanting to open up opportunity for all people, the agenda for Facebook is less clear. This article reports that Facebook donated $100,000 to the Conservative Political Action Committee, which funds conferences with panels like “If Heaven Has a Gate, A Wall, and Extreme Vetting, Why Can’t America?” and “Armed and Fabulous: The New Normal.” It was also willing to provide a platform for racist, sexist, homophobic Milo Yiannopoulos before he went too far, even for conservatives, and appeared to be a supporter of pedophilia.

Facebook also supported Netroots Nation, one of the largest annual gatherings of progressive activists as well as the Personal Democracy Forum, an organization which “investigates how politics and technology work together.”

Author: Kiersten Marek

Kiersten Marek, LICSW, is the founder of Philanthropy Women. She practices clinical social work in Cranston, Rhode Island, and writes about how women donors and their allies are advancing social change.

Leave a Reply