Today marks the three-year anniversary of one of the most important weeks of our lives. In the span of just a few days, we welcomed our first child, Max, into the world, and announced a new philanthropic organization, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, dedicated to making the world better for her generation.
As any new parent will tell you, holding your child in your arms gives you a new appreciation for your parents, and their parents, and their parents’ parents. And in those early days with Max, we found ourselves thinking about family a lot.
We gathered some of the best thinkers of our time — the brightest technologists, scientists, policy experts, and advocates — and began to point their work at some of the biggest challenges that we face as a society.
We named Max after two of Mark\’s great-grandfathers. They both came from families living in Eastern Europe in the late 1800s that heard there was more opportunity and more tolerance in America. So they traveled with what little they had to the United States. They fought hard to make a living and build a better life.
Priscilla comes from a family of immigrants, too. Her grandparents were living in Vietnam when the war broke out in the 1950s. They believed in something better for their children. They didn’t know exactly what it looked like, but they knew it was out there. So they hired a boat. In the dead of night, they stood on a dock, and watched their children float off into the great unknown. It’s one of the bravest things a parent could do — and an act of almost unreasonable hope.
Once we welcomed Max, that distant history became very palpable examples of the extraordinary sacrifice that people are willing to make for their children and for a better future. We knew that we existed, and she existed, because of our family members — people who had so much faith that a better future was possible, that they risked everything to pursue it.
Of course, we haven’t faced anything nearly so difficult in raising our daughters Max and August. In so many ways, we are much luckier. But we also share the conviction that a better world is out there — for our children and for everyone’s children. A world where lives aren’t needlessly destroyed by disease. Where every student can learn in a way that makes sense for them. Where justice and opportunity reaches everyone, not just the lucky few.
When we started the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, we had only an initial idea of how we might get to that place. But we knew it was possible. And our families taught us that the only way to find it was to start looking for it — to do whatever we could to chart a course toward a better future.
So that’s what we did. We gathered some of the best thinkers of our time — the brightest technologists, scientists, policy experts, and advocates — and began to point their work at some of the biggest challenges that we face as a society.
Of course, we are still a long way off from the world we’d envisioned. But we’re more optimistic about our journey than ever before — because we’re making real progress.
Consider just a few of the milestones our team and partners have achieved this year across our three focus areas here at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative:
Science: We’ve launched new collaborations and tools to accelerate biomedical research — including some big steps forward on the path to helping cure, prevent or manage all disease by the end of this century.
To aid in the fight against infectious disease, the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub launched IDseq, an open source, cloud-based tool that can help researchers identify emerging diseases from a blood sample. This has the potential to transform our ability to detect and respond to outbreaks around the world. We’re now teaming up with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to train global health workers to use this powerful new tool.
Most of us probably know someone who’s suffered from a neurodegenerative disorder like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or ALS, but researchers still don’t fully understand the cellular and physiological processes that cause neurodegeneration — and there are few treatments. This year we launched the Neurodegeneration Challenge Network to bring together scientists who study basic biology, clinicians, engineers, and computational biologists — and equip them with the tools and resources they need to better understand the underlying causes of these devastating diseases. We hope this will lead to new treatments, preventive measures, and hope for those affected.
One of our biggest bets to help diagnose and treat disease is supporting the Human Cell Atlas, a global, collaborative effort to map every cell type in the healthy human body. We’re supporting interdisciplinary networks of scientists, researchers and engineers who will develop tools and technologies to build out and interpret the findings being collected. We hope that these networks will accelerate progress toward a first draft of the Atlas being completed, and toward these transformative technologies being widely available to the entire biomedical community.
Education: We are working with partners across the U.S. who are jumpstarting that same kind of innovation in education, too.
We’re continuing to invest in groundbreaking school models that advance the academic, social and emotional development of students. One of our key partners, Summit Public Schools, has pioneered a personalized learning approach that has expanded to almost 400 schools across the country — with promising results. The Pasadena Independent School District in southeastern Texas started piloting the Summit Learning Program in 2015. In the past two years, seventh graders there who were the furthest behind their peers made a 17 percent gain on the state math assessment — and a 20 percent gain in reading. Another partner, Valor Collegiate Academies in Tennessee, outperformed its peers statewide for the fourth year in a row.
We also worked with the College Board to double the number of Black, Latinx, and female students taking Advanced Placement Computer Science and to help them provide free, personalized SAT prep to nearly half of SAT takers across the country.
Justice and Opportunity: If we want to take luck out of the equation for more people, we need to understand the systemic barriers that hold people back and take action to address them.
So, this year, we supported the launch of Opportunity Insights, Harvard’s new research and policy institute. At Opportunity Insights, Raj Chetty looks at how the neighborhood a person grows up in impacts their future success. He and his team will use data to literally map the real-world impacts of inequality, so we can develop smarter policy.
We were proud to support the launch of Eviction Lab, the first-ever nationwide evictions database to map housing insecurity and its impact. We also backed efforts in our home state of California to improve housing affordability, including the passage of Prop 1, which will help build affordable housing for veterans, working families, people with disabilities, and people experiencing homelessness.
Our criminal justice reform and tech teams also partnered with the new Philadelphia district attorney, Larry Krasner, who’s reforming Philly’s justice system, to learn how we can use technology to help his team — and hopefully, prosecutors across the country — build a more humane justice system.
Building that better system will also require lessening the burden of carrying a criminal record. Today, an astounding 70 to 100 million Americans have them — and it can hold them back for a lifetime. Long after they’ve paid their debt to society, a criminal record can prevent them from getting jobs, securing housing, and more. Already, Pennsylvania has passed a law that helps lessen this burden. This year, we launched a bipartisan effort to encourage other states to follow suit.
Finally, we invested in our own backyard — our new hometown of Redwood City. Over the past year, through our Community Fund, we partnered with 41 local organizations working to address the most urgent needs of at-risk and vulnerable individuals or families on the San Francisco peninsula.
You can learn more about all of our work this year on our new website. We hope that doing so will give you the sense of hope we feel.
It’s easy to feel pessimistic when we are reminded daily of the challenges ahead of us — to think that progress has stalled, or that things are getting worse instead of better. But the truth is, sometimes it’s hard to see when we’re on the path to a better future, because that path doesn’t come with a map. It never has.
With the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, we’re proud to venture with hope into the great unknown — alongside the entrepreneurs, scientists, wild optimists, teachers, advocates, and engineers who inspire us every day. We can’t wait to see what 2019 brings.
Priscilla Chan & Mark Zuckerberg
Co-founders and Co-CEOs