Pediatrician Priscilla Chan began CZI along with her husband, an internet developer named Mark Zuckerberg (you might have heard of him), with the goal of managing diseases for the next generation’s lifetime. Through investing and building technological tools, CZI hopes to support scientists and researchers in making progress towards disease treatment.
The initiative doesn’t stop at attempts to make progress in the medical world, either. In the education realm, the group has developed a software to assist teachers in lesson planning and has also developed a program to give out eye exams to students in low-income neighborhoods. The group is also seeking reform in policy around the criminal justice system and immigration reform.
“We are about building an aspirational future that everyone’s excited about. We have to be cognizant about how we make sure that the opportunity to access that is equal. There are some kids that are on a moving walkway and they’re gonna get there. There are other kids that are going the wrong way on an escalator,” explained Chan.
Chan’s experiences before and during her time at Harvard inspired her to dedicate her life to helping children. Chan was born to refugees from Vietnam and lived in low-income housing outside of Boston. Through her dedication to schoolwork and assistance from teachers, Chan received a full scholarship from Harvard.
While at Harvard, Chan questioned if she was actually cut out for its famous rigid academic atmosphere. On her experience there, Chan stated, “Harvard was so hard for me. I showed up, and I just felt like a failure. I just felt like I didn’t belong – my one skill set of being smart, I wasn’t smart there anymore. I didn’t fit in.”
Despite the doubts she had, Chan persisted. While in undergrad, she volunteered at an after-school program in a low-income neighborhood, where she felt inspired to continue helping children. After graduation, Chan taught fourth and fifth grade for a year and later went on to medical school.
After her husband received an offer from Yahoo to buy his social media service, Facebook, Chan knew she would be able to pursue philanthropy at a broader level.
Before CZI, Chan founded The Primary School in California, which is private and nonprofit. Besides education, the school also offers mental and medical services to its 250 students.
The birth of Chan’s daughter, Max, was the final push for her and her husband to officially establish the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. A letter the couple wrote to her upon her birth read, “We will do our part to make this happen, not only because we love you, but also because we have a moral responsibility to all children in the next generation.”
The opportunities Chan has had in America inspired her to help future generations through the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. “I am forever in debt and willing to fight for what I feel like is an extremely American value, and I just think that’s what makes this country great.”
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