Message in Zuckerberg's act

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement that he and his wife would give away 99 per cent of the shares they own in the company to charity has drawn high praise. At current valuation, the shares are worth $ 45 billion. While the decision has been widely hailed, some have tried to find faults and motives. There is criticism that it is meant to evade tax and to influence public policy, which may help the company. It is pointed out that the money will go to the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, a company controlled by the two, and they will decide what causes will be aided and promoted by the charity. But such nitpicking criticism loses sight of the big gesture. A person counted among the richest in the world is giving up most of his wealth for society. It would be churlish to still say that what he is left with is itself a fortune and that he would make tax gains by his charitable action. He should have the right to decide what cause he should support.

Zuckerberg has said that he would like the world a better place for his newly born daughter and that his charitable organisation would promote “personalised learning, curing diseases, connecting ages and people and building communities” by investing, lobbying and influencing policy debates. It is not right to be cynical about these aims, which are backed by a willingness to support them with personally acquired wealth. It is a higher calling that encourages and makes people give back to society a part of what they got from it, especially when most people in the world do not get even the minimum needs of life. Zuckerberg has acted in the commendable tradition of many American businessmen and industrialists whose philanthropy has become proverbial. The charitable work done by organisations and foundations set up by Rockefeller, Ford, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and many others has made a big difference in the world.

There is a message in such actions for the rich in India who are not known for charity and philanthropy. There are some companies and individuals who have done charitable work, and there is some institutional charity by religious or social bodies. But Indians could do much better. While 2.5 per cent of the US GDP goes for charity, in India it is 0.5 per cent. We consider the western society as acquisitive and materialistic and claim that we value renunciation and place the society over the individual. But our actions do not justify these claims.

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