Moonshot Philanthropy with Priscilla Chan (Chan Zuckerberg Initiative) | Disrupt SF (Day 2)
5:51PM Sep 6, 2018
Alright, I think you guys know who's next. Given the fact that we're close to standing room here.
It's you know, we use technology for a lot of things in this world, but very rarely do we pay really super close attention to using it for good and justice. But our next guest has dedicated her life to that. So with that, I'm gonna bring her up on stage. Please give a warm welcome to Priscilla Chan and your moderator, Josh Constine.
Thanks so much for coming. So as you might know, we have someone very special here. Someone who's part of a very special family with a very special member Max and her sister August. You might also know their dad but I don't really want to talk as much about him today. I really want to get to know a little bit more about you. I think we hear a lot about the dorm room those early days at Harvard from Facebook but what I want to hear a little bit more of is your background.
So you are a doctor and a teacher. And you've done a lot to try to help the world before the Chan Zuckerberg initiative. Was there a moment or an anecdote from those roles that you see as sort of your superhero origin story?
I, I just think it's crazy that I'm here today. And it's there's this the reason why is just goes back so far and I grew up as children of Chinese Vietnamese refugees who came to this country with nothing but the good luck of having been sponsored out of the refugee camps by the Catholic Church. And we arrived in Boston where they had nothing but faith in the educational system and that things would be okay.
I went through K through 12 in public school where my only direction from my family was work hard you'll do well. and the there wasn't much more detail after that. But I got lucky. I had teachers who took me under their wing and made sure that I knew what the SATs were, that I knew how to apply to college, that I had one mentor even go so far as to like, force me to play tennis even though I was horrible
because he was like, You need to be an athlete too. And I was like, I will never be an athlete.
But I real all of that. I just really thought that was part of growing up. The moment I realized that like my life had become the fullest version of the American Dream is when I showed up at Harvard that first day and I realized that someone had reached down and pulled me out of the struggles that my family faced as being refugees.
Very working class, no college education. Someone my mentors had reached down and pulled me up. And I had showed up at Harvard where there are opportunities that I didn't even realize were possible the moment before I set foot on campus. And that's when I realized that I needed to do everything to make sure that I was reaching back and pulling up as many other kids as possible because I knew there were so many more deserving children and I got lucky.
But and that's led me down the path of first being an after school teacher in a low income housing project right next door to where I grew up, and then an elementary school teacher and then a pediatrician here at San Francisco General Hospital. But each time I was just thought I needed to build one more skill set. I needed to do one more thing in order to help children to pull them up to that they could see the opportunities that I've had available and I
After 30 years, I, I came to the conclusion that you can only
you can only sort of try to break the rules so many times before you realize the whole system's broken. That and that's the problem why children don't have the opportunities they deserve. And right now we're just getting by with people doing extraordinary things to help kids get lucky.
So during those years when you were a teacher, I think you really saw the need not just for education, but for work in healthcare. And you guys have obviously made some significant donations towards that and we'll talk about that a little bit later. But was there a moment during during those times as a teacher where you realize that like healthcare was not where it needed to be?
Well, there's been a couple of kids that have really made a big impact on my viewpoint.
When I was working in the after school program. I
I was a kid I was like, 19 years old and a
A adult in my eyes from the one of my students school came to see me and said, have you seen this student? And I said, No I haven't. I figured she was out sick. But and she said, I haven't seen this child in a couple days. I'd love your help in looking for her. And I said, no problem. I walked out into the housing projects after the after school program that day, and I found her immediately and she was in the playground and her two front teeth are broken down the middle.
And I I thought I had so many thoughts. One I failed. How could I have not seen this? How could I have prevented it, who hurt her and has she gotten healthcare has she gotten the right dental care to prevent infection and treat pain and that moment compelled me like I need more skills to fight these problems. I need to get out there and build more skills and so you know, at 22 is like I need to become a pediatrician.
And I did that in in my practice at San Francisco General. I saw the same kids just this time in the clinic when and I always tried to ask, go the extra mile, like how school How are things at home like how can I help you access
the resources you need to be successful. And then I failed again. I had another kid who was eight years old had missed 180 days of school that is a full school year because of a deep issues around domestic violence and miscommunication where the school thought there wasn't a health issue and the health care system me thought that there was a school issue and this kid who we ultimately tested and found to have the normal intellectual abilities didn't know his letters when he was eight years old.
So after failing and Failing that, those are the opportunities that showed me that we need to do something differently to make sure that the infrastructure is set up for children to be successful.
That's a really inspiring story. And thank you for telling us that big donors are giving the Giving Pledge. And I think we've seen a lot of the extraordinarily wealthy rally to try to address some of these problems.
But meanwhile, we're also seeing a lot of the rank and file millionaires of the tech industry, especially living relatively hedonistic lives and not necessarily giving as much how do we get the rank and file rich involved in philanthropy to the same level at some people like you have.
I think the thing that I'm most excited about of what we're doing at the Chan Zuckerberg initiative is giving in a way that is authentic to who we are in the skill sets that we have. And so we're trying to pair world class engineering with grant making impact investment building movements policy and the key to that is what's authentic to Mark and I.
marks built a very successful technology company, we should bring that skill set to actually build an engineering team and orient those teams towards
education, science, justice, and opportunity. I've been on the front lines as a practitioner, and I've seen sort of like what is possible when you reorient the system and break the rules of the current system. You can achieve incredible outcomes for patients, for students. And I think even the money part is incredibly important because we wouldn't be able to do that without the money. But I think where we have unique leverage is applying our skill sets as
living in the philanthropy world as living donors and applying that in addition to the resources and everyone can do that. And at CCI. I'm excited that we are building opportunities for engineers, designers.
product managers to come and help design tools for the human cell Atlas for our learning platform for important issues and criminal justice reform. And I just encourage everyone to think deeply. It's it's not about money. And I think everyone in tech in Silicon Valley has a very unique skill set that has brought tremendous advances in the consumer industry.
But what if we oriented that towards important social issues as well, and it doesn't have to mean a full time job. And I had a call with someone who ran a SAS company yesterday who's given me great advice around how to actually build technology that can scale to many using an open source
philosophy and I think everyone in in our community in our industry has the opportunity to give in a way that many don't have access to.
so thank you guys have done an incredible job of leading by example, though I do think we need some kind of change and cultural norms. I know that Mark had a Jewish upbringing in the Talmud instructs Jews to donate at least 10% of their income. Do we need some kind of meme or new cultural norm that makes multi millionaires feel like you're a jerk? If you give less than that,
I think a huge part of why we've stood up and said that we want to do that is we want to ship like put our name out there in saying we're willing to try this and we're willing to share the lessons that we've learned through the process so that others can benefit from that as well. But I think the other thing that's missing is like what is the impact we're going to make?
And if I said look, give us 10% of your income you would your the way you would evaluate that is different based on like how sure you are that you're going to be able to get make an impact and we are spending a lot of time and energy building up both a data team and research team and CCI to help us learn and quantify so that we can better understand the impact we're able to have through philanthropy. And we're hoping that those resources actually encourage others to say, Oh, I understand if how I can better quantify what impact I can make if I make a leap towards doing this.
So how do you prioritize what causes to give you do all lives matter equally, whether that's abroad, or domestic or local versus national? And, you know, how do you think about that as well as with animal lives or the environment? How do you weigh those different sources or opportunities for giving?
Yeah, so right now the issues that we work on at CCI or education, we are building resources to allow every child to have access to personalized learning experiences and insights science, we have a mission of cure, prevent or manage all disease.
Justice and opportunity, we were all we want everyone to have access to just unfair opportunities in their lifetime. And we we think about what we want to build as a future for everyone. It should be aspirational for all in the place where equity has to come in is that we can't build an aspirational future and just assume that people will get there or they'll get lucky.
The way we operationalize has to be around equity and how we make sure that the the historic folks who are historically left behind have those additional measures to allow them to access that incredible future that we want to build for our children and in the future generations and those so that's how we think about the framework and access overall
and then the way we chose prop choose problems and the types of projects that we tackle is also in remembering that philanthropy Small we are incredibly small compared to the overall our government public systems, the infrastructure that already exists. The thing that we have
going for us is that we are can be incredibly nimble. So we have to think about where we are most leveraged it with the resources that we have, and I think what the unique unique abilities that we have at CCI so we tend to choose problems where we can access technology where we need to think about comprehensive
solution sets rather than rather than one particular area or tactic. And with that lens, we choose problems that we are best suited for, without saying that we have to fix everything in the ecosystem because we know that we can't
so want to ask a little bit about national giving versus hyper local giving. So Facebook's wealth you know was made here largely in the Bay Area and that's where season Money comes from. But that success has also led to gentrification in the local areas and cause some tough times for people who live here who aren't part of the tech era.
So how do you balance giving to those causes, even if they might not be necessarily as cost effective due to the high cost of living in the Bay Area versus other national causes? And do you think that you have an obligation to concentrate more of that giving locally to offset impacts made by how the money was created?
We love the Bay Area. The Bay Area is our home, it will be our children's home. And it's
has been a place of incredible innovation for our country. It's one of our leading economic engines, but we all know No, we're just talking about how hard it is to live in the Bay Area. And we see it as our responsibility to help give back to making sure that the bear can remain a vibrant, exciting community that people from all different backgrounds all different socio economic strata can access
and within that message We look for places where we are have a unique opportunity to give back. And we look at affordable housing, we've been thinking about how we can contribute to improving access to affordable housing. It's a huge problem. It's very expensive. If we through ever all of our resources to affordable housing, we still would not be able to solve even just in the Bay Area.
But we have the ability to tinker around with new financial tools like our investment investment in landed where we help make down payments for homes in the barrier possible for teachers, though often missed working middle class and we also engage in advocacy and making sure that the right incentives and bonds are in place through our local government to incentivize housing development as well.
And so it's just the beginning, but we do feel a deep responsibility to give back and make the community that we live in and we love and we've benefited from a great place For many to live in and thrive.
So I know there's some really big controversial issues with philanthropy in the Bay Area. So I wanted to do maybe just a quick lightning round and just get very quick responses on this because I have a few more topics to get to. But when it comes to living conditions, do you think we should be building as much housing as possible or only focusing on building affordable housing?
We should be protecting what's available and incentivizing building across all areas, and there's different strategies for each
great and so in terms of the the homeless issue, do you think we should be trying to get people off the streets or letting them be and allowing them to their own agency and how they decide to live
the homeless issues around homelessness? It is not like home, no home as a physician, I've seen how complicated these issues are. And it really is about thinking about the person holistically and making sure they have access to the right care
then obviously needles have been a big issue was widely discussed in the bay Do you think we should be having safe injection sites or a more policing on the streets for for open drug use?
I think we have to think about the ways where we improve access to care and if there's all different ways to incentivize people to feel safe and to come in to access the right type of care that will lead them towards long term success.
Great. I appreciate that. I want to talk a little bit about politics to Cz. I have a political affiliation.
We are nonpartisan organization and we work on issues that are there just issues about humans and human lives. And we have found that with that approach, we find allies on both sides of the aisle.
So we know that politics can be a powerful way to make change and affect those human lives. And we've seen people like the Koch brothers use their wealth to donate to political campaigns to drive their policy beliefs. How do you feel about using CCI? To donate to political campaigns, campaigns
we fought, we focus on issues and we we defer to folks who like for instance, criminal justice reform, we fund
different groups, crime survivors, formerly incarcerated individuals, and we believe in the ability for those who are closest to the issues to help formulate the solution. And so they're not our solutions. We're supporting those on the front lines who have real lived experiences to be able to make a difference in those areas.
So some see Trump as a massive enemy of some of the initiatives that you guys support, whether that's health or education or criminal justice, how do you feel about donating money to candidates looking to challenge him in the next presidential election, if that could be a way to actually impact some of these big areas you guys are working on
we right now we are about issues and how we can actually directly impact those issues and we do not support political candidates.
Got it. So there's a new book called winners take all that discusses how the very wealthy donate to important causes, but often fail to push change to the fundamental systems that concentrate extreme wealth in the hands of the few. And the author says that this without the structural change or if we had this structural change the public and the government would have enough money that they could rely less on philanthropists, what's your take on that perspective? And how do you think wealth should be redistributed?
I'm not sure what the author references and structural change. But I do agree that like the fundamentally the infrastructure around the way we care for our fellow citizens is broken and we need to modernize and build them in a way that can continue to evolve and aren't static and allow us to incorporate the best practices that we see individuals practicing and actually build ways for many folks to access and that can be super vague but like one teachers doing great work and producing amazing results How can we actually help democratize that in scale those opportunities for schools who don't have that one phenomenally phenomenal master teacher to actually be able to deliver that quality of education for their students
so one of the ways that could really drive a lot more money back to the government would be an inheritance tax would you support laws that might see max in August inherit very little of your fortune
will max in August are going to inherit very little of our fortune.
But I you know, all the vast majority of our wealth has gotten to CGI, but I want I do believe that increased taxation can be a good thing for our country.
So your family's legacy has come a bit under fire recently because of social media is impact on democracy and well being 50 years from now. What do you want the salient point of your own legacy to be
we believe that The world can be we are just incredible optimists. And if we are legacy is that we were just incredible dreamers that were able to
chase down hard, big, hairy problems, and do our peace and our peace at CGI being around this comprehensive view of problems and building an engineering,
I'd be quite proud of that.
how do you feel about digital well being, you know, your daughters are going to be using screens eventually. What's your perspective on that? Given that you know, Mark has built the most successful use of people's time on the internet? Well, how do you do you guys control that what's your what's your take on that for max
Well, they're really small our children are one and two but I have the same philosophy for for my children as I do for all children. It it really depends on like, what is it used for and I I think we can all agree that there are bad uses of screen time. But I think very few people in this room would disagree that a video call with a grandparent is a bad use of screen time. And so just really being thoughtful about how we curate those experiences to make sure that they're developmentally appropriate.
I think that theme of how we use it applies back to what we talked to the beginning, which is that, yes, there's lots of people with lots of money in the world. And it's not necessarily just about how that money is used. Or if you do take a full time job in philanthropy, but about inspiring people to do what they can and do what's best with the time or the money that they have. So thank you for being an inspiration to so many in the philanthropy world and to the rest of the world as well.
Thank you for having me.