With high-profile hiring announcement, CZI acknowledges the role of public policy in its work

David Plouffe, former top adviser to U.S. President Barack Obama and member of Uber's board of directors. Photo by: Noam Galai / Getty Images for TechCrunch / CC BY

David Plouffe, the former top adviser to U.S. President Barack Obama who left the White House for Uber, is joining the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and CEO of Facebook who co-founded CZI along with his wife Priscilla Chan, broke the news in a Facebook status Tuesday that also announced the selection of Ken Mehlman, who formerly ran the Republican National Committee and served as a campaign manager for former U.S. President George W. Bush.

The company announced the two high-profile names with strong ties to each of the major political parties on the same day. Zuckerberg’s post featured a picture of himself and Chan sitting and laughing with Plouffe, who will be their new president of policy and advocacy. While he has distinguished his approach at CZI from other philanthropic efforts by emphasizing the role of engineering in social change, with this move, Zuckerberg is recognizing needs that extend beyond the role of technology, such as building relationships with governments and other partners.

By investing in public policy and advocacy in order to scale their work in science and education, CZI is building on a tradition seen at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, among other organizations. This latest announcement also reflects something Zuckerberg and Chan articulated in the letter to their daughter that launched CZI about the importance of policy and advocacy to support the kind of movements that are needed to make progress sustainable.

“My job will be to find creative ways to lift the voices of those who want to build a better future — no matter where they live, their background or their ideology,” Plouffe wrote, also on Facebook. “Curing disease, improving education through personalized learning and building technology and tools to help organizations reach their full potential are areas with widespread support and massive potential for mobilization, great storytelling and smart policy engagement.”

He explained that he will remain on the Uber board, while also working with Mehlman, who will lead CZI’s policy advisory board, to add and announce members over the next few months. While Plouffe and Mehlman come from different parties, they have worked together on issues including marriage equality, a detail that Zuckerberg made sure to note in his announcement. Together Plouffe and Mehlman aim to give Zuckerberg and Chan a greater voice in Washington, D.C., to ensure that their philanthropy affects policy.  

While Facebook statuses from Zuckerberg, Plouffe, and Mehlman were all posted at the same time — reflecting the carefully managed communications by CZI — they reveal interesting insights into the significance of the announcement. For example, Mehlman says he looks forward to working with Plouffe on policy, advocacy, and storytelling, reflecting that CZI may invest in this area as part of its stated mission to advance human potential and promote equal opportunity.

Stay tuned to continuing Devex coverage of CZI, as the organization continues to expand its team, or check out the newly listed policy and advocacy roles on CZI’s jobs page.

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    Catherine Cheney

    Catherine Cheney is a Senior Reporter for Devex. She covers the West Coast of the U.S., focusing on the role of technology and innovation in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. And she frequently represents Devex as a speaker and moderator. Prior to joining Devex, Catherine earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Yale University, worked as a web producer for POLITICO and reporter for World Politics Review, and helped to launch NationSwell. Catherine has reported from all over the world, and freelanced for outlets including the Atlantic and the Washington Post. She is also the West Coast ambassador for the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit that trains and connects journalists to cover responses to problems.