CHICAGO, Sept 24 – Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg joined the ranks of openly philanthropic billionaires Friday with a 100-million-dollar grant to the troubled public school system in Newark, New Jersey.
Zuckerberg, 26, made the Forbes Richest Americans list for the first time this week with an estimated net worth of 6.9 billion dollars, which gave the Harvard drop-out the rank of 35th richest American and second-youngest self-made billionaire.
"I\’ve committed to starting the Startup Education Foundation, whose first project will be a 100 million dollar challenge grant" to Newark\’s public school system, Zuckerberg said.
He made the announcement on the Oprah Winfrey show, accompanied by the mayor of Newark and governor of New Jersey, who vowed to turn the state\’s failing school system in a national model of excellence.
The gift is many times larger than any the school system has received before, and amounts to one-eighth of the 800-million-dollar annual operating budget.
With this gesture Zuckerberg is joining forces with the likes of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, who earlier this year launched a campaign to get other billionaires to donate most of their fortunes to charity.
Oprah repeatedly chided Zuckerberg for wanting to make the donation anonymously, saying his shyness and desire for privacy shouldn\’t outweigh the impact of a public announcement.
"He needs to make this public so that more people will join in and give money," the talk show diva and noted philanthropist insisted to the applause of her studio audience.
Zuckerberg\’s act of public generosity comes a week ahead of the October 1st release of "The Social Network", a Hollywood film on the birth of Facebook that casts a harsh light on its founder.
Promises of elitism, geekdom, betrayal and greed are fueling anticipation for the film and early reviews have mentioned the potential for it to be a contender in the Academy Awards.
Facebook and Zuckerberg have not sanctioned the film, which is based on the book "The Accidental Billionaires" and is directed by David Fincher, who won an Oscar nomination for "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button."
The film takes viewers back to Harvard, where Zuckerberg was a student with dazzling computer skills who didn\’t fit in at the status-conscious elite university.
The screenplay, written by Aaron Sorkin, creator of hit television series The West Wing, opens with Zuckerberg as a 19-year-old Harvard student who has trouble even making eye contact, according to a draft circulating on the Internet.
In the film, a clearly brilliant but socially off-key Zuckerberg is dumped by his girlfriend and takes refuge in his computer, setting in motion the disputed events leading to the creation of Facebook in 2004.
Zuckerberg downplayed the film as an act of fiction.
"Oh, well, I mean, it\’s a movie. It\’s fun, you know what I mean? A lot of it is fiction, but even the filmmakers will say that they\’re trying to build a good story," he told Oprah.
"And I can promise you, this is my life so I know, it\’s not that dramatic. The last six years have been a lot of coding and focus and hard work, but maybe it will be fun to remember it as partying and all this crazy drama."
Zuckerberg allowed Oprah\’s cameras into the modest rental home he shares with his long-time girlfriend in Palo Alto, California.
He insisted that he owed his achievements to a quality education and chose Newark – a city to which he has no significant ties – because he believed in the leadership of Mayor Cory Brooker and Governor Chris Christie.
"I\’ve had a lot of opportunities in my life, and a lot of that comes from, you know, having gone to really good schools," Zuckerman said.
"And I just want to do what I can to make sure that everyone has those same opportunities."