Facebook CEO unveils school gift

2010-09-24 22:22

Chicago - Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg on Friday pledged to set up a foundation to donate $100m to public schools over the next five years.

The 26-year-old internet tycoon announced his first major gift on Oprah Winfrey's talk show on the same day an unflattering movie about Facebook's early days, The Social Network, was having its premiere.

Zuckerberg told Winfrey that he picked schools in Newark, New Jersey's largest city, for the gift "because I believe in these guys".

"These guys" are New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a cost-cutting governor who has become a star of the Republican party, and Newark Mayor Cory Booker, whose celebrity connections have made him New Jersey's next highest-profile politician. The three appeared together on Friday on Winfrey's show.

Wearing a gray t-shirt, black jacket and tennis shoes, Zuckerberg said he chose to make his philanthropic debut in education "because every child deserves a good education and right now that's not happening". He said he wants other children to have the same opportunities he had.

Zuckerberg said his gift is a challenge grant, and Booker said he is lining up money from other foundations. The goal is to raise $100m more to match what Zuckerberg is to contribute over five years through his new foundation called Startup: Education. Booker also will raise $50m more to serve the "disaffected youth" of the city.

Newark schools have been plagued for years by low test scores, poor graduation rates and crumbling buildings. The system was taken over by the state in 1995 after instances of waste and mismanagement, including the spending of taxpayer money by school board members on cars and restaurant meals.

Last year, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced $290m in education grants, including $100 million for the school system in Tampa, Florida, and $90m for the Memphis, Tennessee, district. The Gates Foundation also has given more than $150m to New York City schools over the past eight years.

Few details were disclosed on Friday morning about how Zuckerberg's money is to be spent.

Zuckerberg grew up in Dobbs Ferry, New York, graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire in 2002 and attended Harvard before dropping out to work full time on Facebook. He has no connection to Newark other than knowing Booker, a charismatic 41-year-old politician who has the ear of President Barack Obama and has helped the city get major donations from Winfrey and New Jersey's Jon Bon Jovi.

The announcement comes a week before The Social Network opens widely. The movie, whose tagline is "You don't get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies," portrays Zuckerberg as taking the idea for Facebook from other Harvard students.