As an undergraduate at Harvard University, Priscilla Chan ran an after-school program for kids in a low-income community. She was eager to provide a safe and supportive environment for these young students. Unfortunately, numerous barriers such as gang violence, poor housing conditions, and lack of medical help prevented many of these kids from attending school.
When one of Priscilla’s students didn’t show up one day, Priscilla decided to go looking for her. “As she was explaining why she missed school, I realized that her front two teeth were broken,” Priscilla said. “I questioned where I had failed in doing my part to prevent her from getting hurt.”
Motivated to help children just like this young girl, Priscilla spent 10 years training to be a pediatrician. “But,” she admitted, “I saw the other side of the problem—I could diagnose and treat, but there were no prescriptions to help my patients be successful, or even to help them stay healthy.
“I kept running into systemic barriers,” Priscilla explained. “So I decided to make the leap into my work today, working deeply to make sure that public systems that help our most underserved children are actually achieving their goals.”
Technology and Philanthropy
Priscilla and her husband, Mark Zuckerberg, founded the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) two years ago, shortly after their daughter Maxima was born.
“When we got pregnant with our daughter Max, we realized we wanted to do our part now to create the incredible world we want her to live in,” Priscilla said. “We wanted to help create a better future for more people.”
CZI supports a wide range of initiatives, from reforming education to addressing the housing affordability crisis in the Bay Area. Although CZI is a philanthropic investment company, technology plays a major role in the way it is run. The organization’s engineering team has developed various tools and technologies to help its mission. For example, they are helping build a data coordination platform for the Human Cell Atlas, a global collaboration that maps and characterizes all cells in a healthy human body.
“I am proud of the engineering team we have built and will continue to grow here,” Priscilla said. “They bring the best of the engineering problem-solving mindset and build tools to accelerate progress in education, science, and justice and opportunity.”
Stepping Up to the Job
Although Priscilla loves her current work, she admits she wasn’t initially confident that she could take on such a prominent role at CZI.
“Three years ago, I thought I would hire someone with the ‘right’ training or ‘right’ experience to do this job,” she said. “But ultimately I stood up for the job. It has been a huge growth opportunity for me and I’m excited to continue learning.
“We are all more capable than we could ever imagine or admit to,” she continued. “There is a strong village of people who are present, ready, and willing to make sure you succeed.”
Priscilla will be one of our featured speakers at this year’s Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC 18), where she will join our 20,000 attendees in promoting a brighter future for women in tech.
“I believe in the mission of AnitaB.org—a future where the people who build technology mirror the people and societies for which they build it,” she said. “We are trying to bring that same value to our work at CZI by building a team that reflects the future we’re building, stays close to the challenges we’re addressing, and is part of the communities we serve. That’s our vision for building a future for everyone.”