Buried deep within Facebook's IPO documents, and largely ignored by media who are focused on the wealth that will be created by the IPO, is a startling letter from Mark Zuckerberg. It's a letter that should make the entire corporate world stop and take note, and a letter that marks a major evolution in our modern understanding of philanthropy.
The letter says that Facebook "was built to accomplish a social mission" and goes on to say:
There is a huge need and a huge opportunity to get everyone in the world connected, to give everyone a voice and to help transform society for the future. The scale of the technology and infrastructure that must be built is unprecedented, and we believe this is the most important problem we can focus on.
We hope to strengthen how people relate to each other.
Even if our mission sounds big, it starts small -- with the relationship between two people.
Personal relationships are the fundamental unit of our society. Relationships are how we discover new ideas, understand our world and ultimately derive long-term happiness.
I have never met Mark, I'm not invested in Facebook, I don't work with Facebook and I believe him 100 percent.
But I would argue that Facebook itself is a form of philanthropy.
Almost everyone forgets that "philanthropy" doesn't mean check-writing.
The greek root of the word is philanthropia, (probably from Prometheus Bound) means "the love of humanity." The Romans turned this in to "humanitas."
In the last hundred years or so, we have started to use the word "philanthropy" as shorthand for the transfer of wealth. We seem to think that anything other than that doesn't count.
But I would argue that the platform Facebook has given the world helps people connect with those they love, enjoy their lives, and improve the lives of others more powerfully than any other technology we have seen.
The hundreds of billions of interactions that Facebook facilitates every day help us enjoy those we know and love on a more frequent basis -- no matter where they live.
This is philanthropy. These interactions, and the happiness they produce, is at the core of what it means to be human.
Will the founders and leadership of Facebook become philanthropists in the traditional sense? I have no doubt. But I believe the wealth they donate will have less of an impact than the amazing product they have built.