Google today announced an effort to give a billion dollars to various philanthropic causes aimed at mitigating the effects of technology on jobs and work over the next five years. It has apparently already given away a tenth of that sum over the past few months, with 1% of the total coming in a donation to Goodwill to create educational programs. Much of the money will likely go towards programs which help workers learn new skills which will be more relevant in the future workplace, a worthy and important goal in a world where educational systems are mostly still the same ones designed over a hundred years ago by industrialists looking to train good factory workers. Google and other big tech companies have obviously played a role in creating this change, for better or worse, and so aligning their philanthropic efforts with mitigating its negative effects is a sensible strategy, if nothing else than as a useful PR counterpoint to recent criticism of the company on other fronts. Google joins Microsoft as a big philanthropic spender, with the latter recently announcing a big project to help provide broadband in rural America.
via USA Today
Even though the shareholder lawsuit over plans to create a new class of shares at Facebook has been settled, some of the materials in the suit have just been unsealed and revealed some interesting tidbits. Business Insider has latched onto this particular one, which is that Mark Zuckerberg wanted to have Facebook employees work on projects for his Chan Zuckerberg Initiative foundation, but got pushback from other board members, notably Marc Andreessen. On the one hand, this feels like just the kind of thing some people worried about when Zuckerberg created the foundation while still running Facebook, risking a blurring of lines between the two. It feels clearly inappropriate for him to try to swing corporate resources behind his personal projects and it’s good that he was shot down. But I’m also minded of the many things that Google invested in during its pre-Alphabet days which were effectively personal passion projects for the two founders. Some of those things had at least tenuous connections to Google’s core business, but others felt much more disconnected, and yet the fact that there was no real shareholder oversight with most of them meant that they happened anyway (and the founders could at least argue they were potentially commercial projects, even if some of them were years from generating revenue). The fact that Zuckerberg created a separate foundation to pursue his projects makes the separation that should exist much clearer and thereby highlights these potential conflicts of interest much more clearly.
via Business Insider
Mark Zuckerberg has dropped plans to have Facebook create a new share class designed to allow him to retain voting control of the company even as he sells many of his shares to fund his philanthropic effort. The move had angered shareholders, who filed suit to prevent the change, and Zuckerberg appears to have caved rather than have to go to court to defend his actions (and potentially the broader issue of the special class of shares he already holds). His argument is that Facebook is doing so well that he can retain control while selling enough shares to fund his philanthropic efforts. The case would have been really awkward for Zuckerberg at a time when he’s been making significant changes and concessions to try to improve public perceptions of Facebook and him personally, so this was probably a smart move, and one which won’t have too many negative consequences for him (and none for Facebook as a company).
Leslie Miley, who has been director of engineering at Slack, is working with Venture for America to start a program that will take employees of coastal tech companies and place them for one year at a time in new locations in the US, especially in minority communities, with salaries paid by their employers. Yelp and LinkedIn have signed up already. The initiative aims to break down a couple of facets of the tech industry’s lack of diversity, opening up opportunities for those in the communities served who may come from underrepresented groups, but also hopefully exposing the Silicon Valley types who participate in the program to new ways of thinking and lifestyles. This seems like a great initiative which should benefit both groups, and we should also see more from coastal tech companies investing in non-traditional locations in the US by putting offices and employees there. There are already several smaller tech hubs outside the traditional ones (including where I live in Utah), and they’re often able to attract great employees who don’t want to put up with the cost and other downsides of a Silicon Valley lifestyle.
Critics of all stripes have found fault with Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan’s philanthropic efforts, but there’s no doubting the commitment to effecting real change here. On balance, I’m inclined to think this is a good thing, though it’s worth continuing to evaluate the methods and structure of the Initiative.