Mark Zuckerberg today went on Oprah and held a telephone press conference to announce the details of his $100 million dollar donation to Newark's public school system. Zuckerberg said that his reasoning for choosing education was that he was inspired by the example of his grandmother, who was a teacher, and by the fact that good high school, prep school, and college-level schooling helped make him who he is (even though he dropped out of Harvard).
The initiative will be funded with $100 million worth of Zuckerberg's own Facebook stock, which the foundation will then sell off for cash to fund the schools. Mayor Cory Booker of Newark said that the plan was to spend the money on innovative programs over the next five years. Though Zuckerberg is not from Newark, and has said he does not have a strong personal connection to it, the combination of a school district in deep need with what he saw as able but underfunded leadership appealed to him.
When asked what his day-to-day influence over the uses of the money would be, Zuckerberg several times reiterated that he was too busy running Facebook to also run a foundation, and was simply investing in someone who he had faith could make a large impact on an important issue. "I also spend all my time running Facebook, so I don't have a lot of time right now," he said in one response. "I don't really have the time right now to run a foundation," he said in another. "I wanted to start giving back of a young age, but the reality is I also spend a lot of my time running a company," he said in another. When asked for details about how, precisely, he might like the money to be spent, he referred questions to Mayor Booker.
Though some have questioned the timing of the grant, which coincides perfectly with the release of the potentially damaging film The Social Network, a film said to portray Zuckerberg as greedy and friendless, Mayor Booker and Zuckerberg contested the suggestion that the timing was related. Zuckerberg said he in fact considered making the donation anonymously, but that the mayor managed to convince him otherwise. According to Booker, the Facebook team worried about the timing due to potential "cynicism among some that this might be viewed as some sort of elaborate publicity stunt" to counter any negative press from the new film. "We had to go through long hauls," said Booker, to convince Zuckerberg not to donate anonymously.
"In terms of the timing, the timing was really driven by the needs of Newark," said Zuckerberg. It was not immediately clear why Friday, September 24th, 2010, which also happens to be the day The Social Network premiers at the New York Film Festival, represented a day of more-urgent-than-usual need for the Newark school system.