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If you do this right …

“In order to be successful, any philanthropist must cause a lot of disruption and consequently upset plenty of people.”

Hmm. That’s a pretty bold statement.

I did just take that quotation completely out of context though. So for some quick background: Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder and CEO of Facebook, announced on September 22 that he would donate $100 million to the Newark Public Schools. Zuckerburg also has a growing friendship with City Mayor Cory Booker who, as part of the terms of the gift, will take on “some control of the long-troubled state-run operation” from Governor Chris Christie.

In response, TIME magazine published a list of “5 Philanthropy Lessons” for the 26-year-old Zuckerburg, suggesting that he “study up on all the education grantmaking” that has come before his own if he wants his gift to have a serious effect.

The above quotation actually comes from the final suggestion and TIME goes on to note: “If you just want to be liked, education reform is not for you … if you do this right, not everyone will be rushing to friend you on Facebook.”

I am honestly not sure how to respond to this. Both the gift itself and his desire to catalyze change are pretty remarkable. But does his ability to make a difference mean that he must also outline how that difference is made? Is he not “serious” without that extra step? Without shaking things up? To put it another way, what if Zuckerburg truly believes that Booker has the right ideas and the right team in place and simply wants to give him the means to move forward? Or does a gift of that size demand some clear and personal ideas for its use? Maybe he needs to jump into the fray (and make some enemies) to ensure that this gift truly puts ideas into action?

Again, I don’t have a clear answer. What do you think? Overall, do disruption and reform often go hand-in-hand? Sure. But I’m not certain that the article has nailed the philanthropist’s role in that process. Or rather, I’m not sure that that role has such a vigorous, clear-cut definition.

That said, this point (plus the others in the article, including “Go big or go home”) are all good and vital food for thought, particularly for a donor like Zuckerburg who has the means and opportunity to spark systemic change in a very large system, very quickly. But I’m not crazy about the general tone of the article, which focuses so intently on big gifts and big change. Do we want to “go big?” Definitely. But impact on a small and personal scale is just as “real” — and for the kids in school right now, just as big.

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