The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the philanthropy of Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, plans to revise their political program and transfer much of their legal work to outside organizations, Recode has learned.
It is a strategic change for CZI and the biggest structural change in the organization since the couple was founded five years ago.
Zuckerberg and Chan will form a new group focused on criminal justice reform that they will support with $ 350 million of their fortune. CZI will also effectively merge its internal immigration work with an external group, also supported by Zuckerberg, Fwd.us, which is pushing for major reforms.
Overall, the billionaire couple will provide an additional 450 million US dollars for the two purposes over the next few years. The changes are the most recent development in the way Zuckerberg seeks to realize his political ambitions at the beginning of a friendlier government by Joe Biden – and at a time when he is becoming more and more political responsibility for precisely those purposes.
Founded in 2015 with a special focus on politics – one of its three original central “pillars” was an advocacy group called Justice and Opportunity Initiatives – CZI has grown into one of the most important philanthropies in America. Now this political work is being outsourced to outside organizations and the JOI team at CZI is expected to largely collapse.
Philanthropy increases the total amount it allocates each year to criminal justice reform, and the revision is likely to increase the total amount the CZI is putting into politics, at least in the short term. CZI has spent nearly $ 450 million on these JOI programs over the past five years. This could mean that in the long run the CZI is spending about as much as before, but in a more nimble, less centralized manner – giving external groups the autonomy to invest for charitable or political purposes, rather than the CZI. consider best.
CZI would then be more of a political bank account and less involved than it is now in direct campaigning and advocacy work which can be hairy and dangerous work that generally makes enemies.
Some CZI employees were concerned about where they would fit in the new structure, according to two sources familiar with the matter, but CZI told Recode there would be no layoffs. Some employees who work on political projects of the CZI could find a new home with the criminal justice group or with Fwd.us.
Some CZI affiliates also have concerns as to whether each existing fellow will continue to raise the same total amount of funding under the new agreement, according to sources. CZI is not expected to offer sunset grants – large financial commitments to nonprofits when a philanthropy stops working in an area. But groups like Fwd.us plan to make sure grassroots groups don’t have unexpected funding gaps, a source said, though some are nervous that these CZI fellows now have to convince a new party to fund their work.
CZI’s political issues came under scrutiny as its co-CEO Zuckerberg became more and more politically divided due to his role as CEO at Facebook. Some of Zuckerberg’s difficulties in his day-to-day work have impacted CZI, a separate organization but seriously affiliated with the Facebook founder. When CZI made an ambitious attempt earlier that year to pass a California electoral initiative to amend what was widely regarded as the third rail of the state, opponents held Zuckerberg’s involvement as a line of scrimmage.
The new arrangement will, intentionally or not, put Zuckerberg back on its specific bets, even if it ends up funding the same amount and types of policy projects. CZI has also recently been followed by unrest within the organization over the conduct of race and in its political work, including an ongoing discrimination lawsuit (which the CZI says is “unfounded”).
The outsourced, independent criminal justice group called Justice Accelerator Fund is led by Ana Zamora, who leads the work of the CZI on the issue and directed the ACLU in Northern California. Zuckerberg has said that CZI spends about $ 40 million annually on grants to reform criminal justice, making it one of the biggest donors of that work in philanthropy.
CZI currently plans to spend around $ 350 million on setting up the Justice Accelerator Fund over the next five years, which is an average of around $ 70 million per year. This organization, the exact structure of which has not yet been determined, then awards grants to new groups. CZI anticipates that the Justice Accelerator Fund may raise funds from other donors in the future.
“The time is ripe for a fairer America, and this increase in funding will dramatically accelerate the pace of progress,” Zamora said in a new letter to CZI partners.
Another US $ 100 million will flow over the next three years from CZI to Fwd.us, which was originally geared exclusively to immigration work, but is now also committed to criminal justice issues. A small amount of that $ 100 million is expected to be passed on to other groups. (Fwd.us does not historically fund outside organizations, which means this will also be a new phase for the company.) Most of its operational funding has long come from CZI, around $ 30 million per year, which means that his budget is only increasingly small – albeit now with a longer-term commitment.
CZI’s work on housing affordability, the third plank of its JOI program, will remain under the CZI umbrella and focus more on regional issues in California. Recode reported last month that the head of JOI, who oversaw all political work, had left the organization.
The over $ 100 billion philanthropy will continue its work on the other two non-political priorities of its work – its support for scientific research and its educational efforts, both of which have been heavily involved in the coronavirus fight.
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