The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative ignited a firestorm of response earlier this month. Many praised the couple for their commitment to philanthropy at such a young age, while others criticized them for choosing to create an LLC, saying it will upend philanthropy as we know it. There were also those who reminded us that, as with all billionaire philanthropic initiatives, "this is one gift horse we should look closely in the mouth."
But what struck me was how Chan and Zuckerberg delivered their big announcement. That's where I see promise and hope.
They wrote a letter to their newborn daughter Max and they signed it as "Mom and Dad."
As CEO of the only statewide community foundation in California that champions gender equity, I couldn't help but read the letter through a gender lens. Every time Chan and Zuckerberg said "you"—76 times, I counted—I imagined not just Max but all girls and women—all our daughters—as the primary audience.
When Chan and Zuckerberg write that she's "full of promise," I imagined the millions of daughters across the world, including those who won't have the same opportunities as Max. When they tell her, with outmost certainty, that she will exercise her "full potential" every day of her life, I thought of the the millions of other daughters who won't have a chance to do the same because they're poor, hungry, unconnected or experiencing violence and prejudice.
I'm hopeful about their commitment because the challenges our daughters face in California and around the world are massive and we need everyone to get on board if we are ever to solve them.
In California, which is where Max was born and will call home, more than three million women are currently living in poverty. That's more than the entire population of women and girls living in New Hampshire, Connecticut, Vermont and Rhode Island combined.
California's women and girls are facing considerable wage barriers. We still make only 84 percent of the wages of our male peers. What's more shocking is that Black women earn 64 cents for every dollar white men make while Latinas earn only 44 cents.
We need help raising the minimum wage so that women can earn more than $1,440 a month, which is how much a full-time minimum wage worker earns. We need help advocating for affordable, quality childcare because day care is a necessity. We need help convincing our legislators and the Governor that we should use our state budget surplus to fund safety net programs that will level the playing field for our daughters—especially women and girls of color, low-income women and immigrant women.
At the Women's Foundation of California, we know that creating opportunities for our daughters will improve entire communities. Currently, only seven percent of philanthropic dollars go to support women and girls. Simply put, that's not enough. We can and must do more. That's why I welcome likely and unlikely allies, new approaches and new ways of thinking.
I am open to the Chan and Zuckerberg's vision of how to do things differently with a multi-sectoral approach that includes the non-profit and the for-profit sectors to create positive change. When they write to their daughter, "we must engage directly with the people we serve," I agree. They write: "We can't empower people if we don't understand the needs and desires of their communities." I agree. They believe that we must participate in policy and advocacy to shape debates. I agree.
I'm hopeful about their commitment because we need all hands on deck if we're to give all our daughters equal opportunity, access to education and economic wellbeing. Only then can we advance their potential and promote their equality in the 21st century.