Wrapping up a Year of Travel Wrapping up a Year of Travel

Wrapping up a Year of Travel

  MarkZuckerberg[Updated on:Nov-16-2017]      |  Reading Time: About 53 minutes

My personal challenge this year was to have visited every US state by the end of 2017 to listen and learn how people are thinking about their lives, their work, and their future. Last Friday, on my last stop of the year, I had a conversation with Neeli Bendapudi, Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor, University of Kansas, to discuss what I’ve learned. Below is a transcript of our conversation, edited for clarity and length.

Mark: Good morning! It’s an honor to be here with you to conclude this year of travel. And I'm really excited to hear your questions, and to talk about what I've seen and learned this year.

Neeli: We are so grateful you chose the University of Kansas as your final stop on this year of travel. And I also want to make sure we welcome everyone who's joining us live from all over the world.

Let's start off. I'm sure people are wondering -- how did you end up in Kansas? You've traveled to 30 states this year. Most of us do New Year's Resolutions. You do a challenge. What have you done?

Mark: Every year I try to take on a personal challenge. I think it's really important to push yourself to learn and improve -- both personally and in work.

I think it would be easy to spend all my time running Facebook, so I try to carve out especially hard yearly challenges. One year I decided to try to learn Mandarin. That is too hard to do in a year. I stuck with it, but I only made little progress that first year. Last year I tried to run a mile every day. That's pretty achievable. Before that, I tried to read a book every couple of weeks.

But this year, the tone of the campaigns leading up to 2016 and the election, I think, was just really surprising in terms of how divisive it was -- no matter which side you were on. And it just led me to want to get out of my bubble in San Francisco and try to understand more of what was going on around the country.

One of the things that struck me was that running Facebook, which is such a global company, I'm more likely to end up traveling to a capital city in another country than to a lot of places in our country.

I wanted to get out and learn and hear from folks, and just be able to see how people were thinking about their work and their lives, and thinking about the future, and the opportunities, and what they were worried about.

This is especially important for people in the tech industry to do. I talked about this upfront when I made the post at the very beginning of the year. Globalization and technology have been important trends that have lifted people up and made a lot of progress around the world, but I think we're starting to see they've left a lot of people behind.

There's a big gap in the country. And it's getting bigger. I think that's at the heart of a lot of the most divisive political debates that we have. And just getting a chance to go out and hear people's perspective on what matters to them. My goal was to listen. I feel like I learned a lot this year, and now I hope to take some of those lessons back with me to the work that I do at Facebook and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to make people's lives better.

Neeli: You've raised a number of points that I hope we will explore. But I have to start with this. You've been all over the country. You've visited so many places. What's your number one takeaway?

Mark: The biggest takeaway by far is that community, and especially local community, are much more important to people than we realize.

We all get support from three main areas in our lives. You have your friends and family, which is the core of your support. We have our communities, whether they're religious organizations, volunteer organizations, school, organizations that look after us and take care of us. And then we have the government safety net, for when the first two don’t do what we need.

If you look at the national debate, the vast majority of it focuses on what the government should do. To some degree, some of the debate focuses on what families need to do to pick up and do what the government isn't going to do. But not that much of the debate focuses on the role of communities.

The thing that struck me everywhere I went -- and I have stories from every state that I visited -- was how central communities are to people.

Starting from one of the first visits that I made early in the year to Texas. I sat down in Waco with a group of ministers. One of the things that struck me right off the bat was, they were talking about religion and spirituality, but almost as important in how they thought about their role was building community in Waco.

They told me stories about how when a plant shut down nearby, they knew that they were going to see couples for marriage counseling a few weeks later because of the strain and stress that puts on people's lives.

That's not something our government can do. And that’s not something that, in that particular case, the person's family could have done. That's a real community support function that these ministers were providing.

Going to a completely different place, I was on the south side of Chicago in the middle of the year. I was talking to a handful of students at a school, and they were telling me that every single one of them knew a friend who was in a gang.

I asked them, why are your friends in gangs? What's going on that you're in school and your friends are in gangs? What they said was: we all need community. And we don't have a YMCA here, so we don't have a place to go after school to hang out. We don't have a lot of positive role models that we can look up to. We have some teachers, but for a lot of people they don't have a role model. The gangs provide that.

More than anything economic, what they told me was, the gangs provide this feeling of family. One of the kids said if you can't find love at home, you can find it on the streets. That was really striking.

I can give you stories from every state I've been to about this. That need and hunger for community is so deep. We don't talk about it enough.

If there's one theme I feel like I've learned this year -- and the common thread through all of our lives -- is about community. We don't agree on everything. On big policy debates and a lot of the national issues, we may not all agree. But one thing I've found a lot of people do agree on is that what matters most in our lives is what's happening around us ‑‑ our friends, our family, our work, our community.

And I've heard this notion from a lot of people that if we could just turn down the temperature a little bit on some of the divisive debates, then there actually is more common ground than you might hear a lot of the time in the news, based on what we all care about in our communities.

So that's one of my big takeaways. If we can help people focus more of the discussion on building community, on local community, then I actually think it's possible to build more common ground and make more progress together than you might think from some of the national discussions that are going on.

Neeli: That's a very interesting point. We're social animals. We need to belong. But how do we build that community right where we live and try to make a difference? I have to ask you, so what role do you think Facebook plays in building community? How could you leverage Facebook for building community for places where these kids in Chicago, or other places you've been, that say they are looking for community?


Mark: Well, we're just one company, but I do think we can play a role here. I think this is so important that earlier this year, I actually changed our company's mission for the first time in our history to now focus on building community.

For the first ten or so years of the company, we mostly focused on helping people connect with friends and family. And we're always going to do that. But now, on top of that, we also want to help people build community.

One of the things we first need to internalize is that, as a society, we're starting in a little bit of a hole here. Because if you start digging into the sociology research, it's actually the case that for the last few decades, membership in all kinds of communities -- religious, volunteer, all kinds of organizations -- has declined as much as 25%. That’s millions and millions of people who need that kind of support from communities who now are not getting it. That means that this is more important than ever, and even more of a reason why we need to shine more of a spotlight on this.

What we try to do with Facebook is look at how people use our groups and communities. It turns out that there are more than a hundred million people who are using groups and define the groups they’re in as meaningful communities.

There are a lot more people who are in groups that are fine, but not necessarily meaningful communities. I'm in this group for people who like the same kind of dog that I like. I get cute photos, but I'm not building meaningful community connections through that. Someone is, but that's not for me. But for me, it was when my dad went in for heart surgery, we formed a community around that. That was meaningful.

We define meaningful communities as upon joining this group, it becomes one of the most meaningful parts of your social support network in your life.

Think about if you get diagnosed with a rare disease. Now you have a group to connect with other people who have that disease around the world to share that experience. There might not be anyone in your town, but around the world someone else is going to have that experience. And you can share that experience and connect over that. That's a really meaningful community for people.

I recently became a parent a couple years ago. New parenthood is a new experience.

Neeli: That's a big community.

Mark: That's a big change in your life. Joining a community for new parents where you can share the different things you're experiencing and get advice, that's meaningful. When you're a new parent, joining that kind of community can become one of the most important things in your life.

And in terms of traveling around this year, I've seen a lot of different examples of this.

I went to North Carolina and visited Fort Bragg, which is the biggest military base in the world. I had a chance to sit down with a group of military spouses who told me that when their partners get relocated from one base to another, it uproots their life. Now they have to find a new school for their kids, they have to find a new home, a new job, new friends in the area. So one of the first things that they do is go look up the Facebook group and community for military spouses near that base.

Now, one of the questions I started asking myself after that visit was: if we have 2 billion people who use Facebook, then why are only 100 million of them in meaningful groups? Why aren't we doing a better job of connecting more people to meaningful groups?

That is the whole thrust of what I want our company to focus on now. We have this whole road map that we've worked on to help people connect to meaningful groups that are out there and to give people the tools that they need to organize these groups. I think that if we can do that, we can start to turn around this trend for the past few decades of people joining fewer groups in society. And we can start to strengthen and rebuild our social fabric.

This is a bigger issue than any one company can solve. But I do think it's really important. We all need to do our part to work on this.

Neeli: I see that, too. This is the whole “bowling alone” phenomenon of how people don't have those groups anymore.

So let's talk about one of the things you've been asked a lot about recently, and that was Facebook and the role in elections. I am really eager to find out what are you doing to prevent Russian, or frankly, any outside interference in our free, democratic process in the United States?

Mark: This is really important. This is an area where we just have an enormous responsibility. A lot of people come to Facebook every day to connect with friends and family, and while they're there, people want to share what's important to them and discuss the most important things that are going on. It is absolutely our responsibility to protect the security and integrity of that platform.

I think it's very clear at this point that the Russians tried to use these tools to sow distrust leading up to the 2016 election and afterwards. What they did is wrong. And it is our responsibility to do everything we can to prevent them or anyone else from doing this again.

There are a number of things that we're doing:

The first thing I view as our responsibility is to help our government understand exactly what happened. Facebook is one piece of a much broader puzzle on how the Russians tried to attack the democratic process. So what we’ve tried to do, including in the testimony in Congress a couple of weeks ago, I directed our team to be as transparent as possible to help the government understand our piece of this -- what happened on Facebook. That way they can put together all the pieces -- what happened across other companies, other hacking that may have happened, information that the intelligence community has that we wouldn't have access to. They need to understand the whole picture so they can understand as our government what the right way to respond and move forward is.

But in addition to that, we invest a huge amount in security. We already did before this. And now we're going to do even more, now that we understand that there are new kinds of threats that we need to face. Already, by the end of this year, we’ll have about 10,000 people at Facebook who work on safety and security. I talked about this on our earnings call a couple weeks ago, that we're going to more than double that in the next year to now have more than 20,000 people working on safety and security -- both having people review things and building technology so we can more automatically find different things that are going on across the network.

The reason why I talked about this on our earnings call a couple weeks ago is that we're investing so much in security that it's actually going to significantly impact the profitability of the company. I just wanted to be really clear about this upfront, because I think it's important that anyone who's going to be involved in our company, whether you're an investor, partner, or employee, you need to know our priorities. I just want to be absolutely clear that our priority is: protecting our community is important to us than maximizing our profits. That's just a really important part of how we've always tried to run the company. And I think that that is our responsibility here.

But this is a new kind of threat. Nation states trying to attack online communities to try to subvert elections. But I am confident that with enough work on this, and collaboration with other companies and with the government, that we can make progress and make this much, much harder for anyone to do in the future.

Neeli: I really appreciate your answer. I think this is on everybody's minds, and I'm glad we were able to talk about it.

What you say also applies to things like globalization and technology. Earlier you alluded to it. Across the country, a big topic of conversation is what happens, what's the impact of ‑‑ they're so intertwined, not just the political issues but the globalization and technology, the impact on jobs, what does it do to local economies? What have you found in this one year of reflection and travel?

Mark: In most places I've gone, globalization, technology, and trade have been big themes that have come up. And one of the things that really struck me is that when there's a disruption ‑‑ if you lose a job, that doesn't just impact you and your family in the short term. But it actually shapes how you think about what you want to do over the long term too.

Let me give you a couple of examples.

Earlier this year, I was in Millinocket, Maine, in a town that was completely built around a paper mill. So there was basically no town there before. Then this paper mill company came. It built housing so it could have workers. It built a school there. People in the community knew if they grew up, they could get a job at the paper mill if they wanted to. It was very intertwined with the town.

Then, the mills closed for a number of reasons, including globalization and technology. Globalization because a lot of the lumber milling work moved a few hundred miles away to Canada. And technology, because now instead of just using wood, more people want to use synthetic wood products that are stronger and cheaper to build homes and other buildings. So for a number of reasons, there's this disruption to the paper mill industry.

I was talking to a number of the people there. They're very enterprising and, of course, if you lose a job you're going to work on getting retrained and go do another job. But one of the things that really struck me was, a number of these folks were really afraid that the new job that they were getting trained for was also just going to get replaced by trade or globalization or technology.

And I was listening to this and thinking hey, you know, you just got retrained in something that's a very important, modern job. It doesn't seem to me like that's really at risk of being replaced for the foreseeable future.

But that fear was really shaping how people were thinking about it. One guy even said: I wasn't sure I wanted to get another job. I was so worried that my job might just get replaced.

And that’s a problem. We need him to work. We need that productivity in our economy. If that disruption is making it so that people feel lack of confidence and feel like it's not worth bothering because of these trends in the past, that's a really big deal.

The flip side of this that's also interesting is there was a guy in that discussion who had been in trucking for 30 years. Now, one of the big discussions in Silicon Valley is self‑driving cars, and trucks, and how this is going to affect jobs. In Silicon Valley, a lot of the discussion is quite pessimistic in terms of people are worried about the future of these jobs. But here was this trucker, and he was not at all worried. He was very optimistic about the future. He said: we don't even have good internet in our town, how are we going to have self‑driving trucks?

Across the country I've talked to a handful of truckers with similar views. In Iowa, I went to this truck stop and I sat down and asked a number of the folks there. I'm asked: how are you thinking about what's going to happen with self‑driving cars and trucks? And it was basically the same attitude, ranging from skepticism that the technology would ever work enough to make a difference, to optimism that if it did it would actually be helpful to them rather than disruptive. You have people who are doing long‑haul trucking who said: it would be great if I could take a nap while my truck was driving itself and I could just drive the last mile. That would increase productivity.

So if you consider globalization, trade, and technology looking backwards, the people who have been affected by it, it really does leave this emotional disruption as well as this economic disruption to what they think their prospects are going forward. Whereas if you think about potential issues in the future, people are much more optimistic. That's a case that people probably should be more optimistic about the way the future can go.

The last thing I'll say on this is that one thing that I think everyone can agree on, regardless of what you think is going to happen with globalization and trade, is that training for modern jobs is really important. That's one of the big takeaways from these trips.

That's why yesterday, when I was in St. Louis, we announced the Facebook Community Boost program. What we’ve found is if you want to build strong communities, strong local businesses are an important part of communities. I think we can all name a small business that not only is creating jobs in our community, but is a place that people come together and hang out and connect. That's really the center of the community.

The more that we can do to help entrepreneurs use digital tools to build new businesses or take existing businesses and grow them, or if you're not trying to create a business, if you're trying to find a job, get the digital skills those businesses want in employees in order to grow, then I think that that would be a really positive step. That's something we as a company -- understanding some of the technology trends -- have a responsibility to do. I'm really happy that we're doing this Community Boost program.

We're going to do it in 30 cities across the country. The first version already helped train more than 60,000 small businesses. Now we hope to do more going forward. So that you want to train people for modern jobs -- that seems to be something that everyone can agree on. I'm glad we're doing more there.

Neeli: You raised some very good points. Because it's not just an economic issue. It's a way of life. Threatening the community. We need to shore up the individuals and the community to be able to prepare for these changes.

You were talking about some people who were able to say, how will we differentiate ourselves and turn it into a positive and say maybe I can't play the price game, but I might compete on quality.

Mark: One of the most inspiring things from this year is anywhere you go, there are a lot of challenges, but there are always people making it happen. And I think that's just really inspiring.

One of the stories that struck me this year -- I was in New Orleans and I went down to the Ninth Ward, the neighborhood that was struck the hardest by Hurricane Katrina. After the hurricane, a lot of people left the neighborhood because it completely flooded a lot of homes. Because there weren't a lot of people, no one would invest to build a grocery store, so the people in the neighborhood had nowhere to get fresh food.

There was a guy who I met, Burnell Cotlon, who I think it's worth calling out is a veteran. It’s Veteran's Day, so thank you to Burnell for your service and to all of you veterans. So Burnell decided that he was going to take it upon himself to build a grocery store. But the thing, is he didn't know anything about building a grocery store. But as a veteran he said, I've done much harder things. I can do this. So he went on the internet and started watching videos on how to run electrical wiring and how to install roofing -- and he did it! He built a grocery store by hand. It took him a little while, but he did it. That way people in his community could have a place to get fresh food.

Then, he decided: now I'm going to build a barber shop so people have a place to come together, and then I'm going to build a laundromat, and a playground, and an internet cafe. He's single-handedly not just building an important small business in the community, but is rebuilding the real cornerstone of the community. It's really hard to meet someone like Burnell and not be really inspired. But the thing that’s even more inspiring is there are people like that all over, in every place you go.

The story we were talking about around trade was -- I was talking to a handful of fishermen in the South. And they were talking to me about how there are real challenges around globalization and trade. They were talking about how there are countries like India and Vietnam that subsidize exports. The cost of labor in a lot of these places is cheaper already. On top of that, if you have the Indian government subsidizing the fish exports, it's probably pretty hard for Americans to compete on price.

I was with a group of ten folks, and they were talking about how this was a really big challenge for their businesses. And then of course there's the one business that’s figured it out and says we're going to take this challenge and turn it into a big opportunity.

What they figured out was that since now there's more international trade, what they were going to do is not just sell their seafood locally, but sell it internationally too, and sell it as a premium American product. So not trying to compete on price, but flipping the whole thing on its head. To me, that's the American spirit. That's the entrepreneurial spirit.

You go around to all these places and yes, we have challenges, whether they're due to policies around globalization or trade, or whether they're natural disasters like Katrina. But there are always people who are working through it and coming up with innovative solutions.

Just yesterday I was in Centralia, Missouri, on my last stop before I came here. And I was talking to these two brothers -- young guys, 25 and 21 years old. They run one of the largest free‑range egg farms in the country. You talk to them it's like, you guys are the future. You're 25 and 21 years old. You've been doing this since middle and high school.

And yes, they have to deal with different regulations that come up. At one point they had to downsize from 25,000 to 7,000 chickens because of regulations they needed to manage. But you just get the sense talking to these folks, they're going to make it happen. They're going to figure this out. And it's just inspiring to see.

Neeli: I love all the examples you're giving, because I do believe small business, without question, so far outpaces big business in terms of number of jobs created, people hired, etc. But it's also the nobility of business. When they do that they are building community as well.

Mark: Yes. 60% of people who work, work in small businesses.

Neeli: Even though I want all my entrepreneurs listening to feel free to build businesses like yours. We're not against big business.

Mark:  We started small too!

Neeli: This has been fascinating. Thank you for your answers. I've been curious, 30 stops. And you know you have to end up in Kansas to cap it off. Is there something that has truly surprised you that you didn't expect to see? What would you say? And maybe even something that maybe disappointed you to see.

Mark: The biggest surprise by far has been the extent of the opioid issues. And it is really saddening to see.

I think people are pretty widely familiar with some of the stats at this point. In 2016, 64,000 people died of drug overdoses. That's more people than died from AIDS at the peak of the epidemic. That’s more Americans than died in the whole Vietnam War. It’s more people than die of car accidents and gun violence combined. And it's still growing quickly. From 2015 to 2016, I think the number of drug overdose deaths went up almost 20%.

You sit down with some of these folks and you just get a sense of how intense the forces at play are and the impacts on the community.

I sat down with a group of recovering heroin addicts in Dayton, Ohio. And I just asked them to explain it to me. One woman told me: when you're a heroin addict, you're not trying to overdose and die. She said: I was trying to shoot up enough to get as close as I could without dying. I listened to that and just thought, oh my god.

One man told me -- sorry, this stuff is just really upsetting to talk about...

One man told me that he was with his friend who was shooting up and starting to overdose. And all he could think about was: I wonder who that guy's dealer is, because that must be really good stuff. That's just intense.

And then you get the sense of how it impacts not just on a health basis, but everyone in the community. I talked to police officers in Dayton. They said one day they had 29 overdose calls that they had to go respond to. And one of the thoughts that was going through her mind was: it's important to respond to these, this is critical, but this is also straining our resources, and I wonder what other things we're not getting to because we have this issue as well to deal with.

Going across the country this year, one of the things that struck me is that I don't think we fully internalize how this epidemic has affected people's attitudes more broadly on policy issues.

Even if it were only a public health crisis, it would be one of the worst public health crises we've ever faced. But there's enough data that suggests that one of the biggest correlations with people who voted Democrat and then voted Republican were the counties that had the highest percent of overdose deaths.

One story that blew me away was when I was in Alabama, I was talking to this guy on his shrimping boat, and I asked him what issues are you worried about for the country? He said terrorism. I said, all right, you're in somewhat rural Alabama. Are you worried for your safety here that someone is going to blow up a bomb? He said no, that's not it. He said the issue is that there are all these drugs in our community. And I can't hire people because I don't want people on my shrimping boat who are going to be on drugs. I'm fearful for my daughter with all the crime that's going on in our town. And I know that a lot of these drugs are coming in from other countries. I just think that the harm coming from other places is a big issue for the country.

So that’s a bunch of issues tied up together that I think a lot of people don't think about. I think it's easy for a lot of folks who just think about any given policy issue to segment these issues and say, okay, here's a public health crisis, here’s a set of immigration issues, here’s a set of public safety issues, here are jobs issues and how do you find people who can do the work we need. But what you find across the country is that for a lot of people, the attitudes towards these issues are very connected.

I actually think that the opioid issues, being so pervasive, have likely had much more of an effect on people's attitudes towards public issues than we fully realize.

Now, I do think that the opioid crisis is starting to get more attention. From my perspective and what I saw this year, it's still getting nowhere near the attention that it needs. But the good news, if you can call it that, is that you can look at other countries that have had serious heroin and opioid issues, like France, for example, in the early 2000s, and there is a roadmap for how you deal with this. It's not going to happen overnight, and I think the issue will likely get worse before it gets better, but if we do the right things as a country -- and more often actually at the state level -- there is a roadmap for how we can improve this situation.

Neeli: There's no question. We need to figure it out. And as you say, it's a multi-pronged issue. It's very, very complex. And a simple, one size fits all won't work. And that's interesting, too.

It probably comes back to each community and what you do. One of the things I was reading about, and I wonder if you have reflections on it too, is how where you are, the geography of where you are located, how it might impact you in terms of community. Someone trying to get over a drug habit.

Mark: Opportunity is not equally distributed.

Neeli: I do believe that.

Mark: The big question is why. And one of the things that I found striking this year is that it's often the relationships you have that make a bigger difference than what you know. That may seem like a trite thing to say, so let me give you a few examples that I think drive this home.

We were just talking about opioids a second ago. Most people who are addicted to opioids, they don't necessarily want to be addicted to opioids. They know it's bad. And they know the things they're technically supposed to do to get off it.

So if you go to treatment, the first thing you'll do is detox. But after that, the next thing that you need to do -- the next most important step -- is to sever all ties with anyone you know who is still using drugs. If your best friend is still shooting up, then you have a very high chance of ending up back on drugs and risking your life. Now, this gets really tough because what if it's not just a friend, but it's your spouse? That actually is a life or death decision that you have to make ‑‑ that relationship and that influence ends up being more important than all of the information you can be told.

You can know all the facts in your mind, but if in your heart and the relationships you have, if you're around people who are doing these things, your chance of ending up back using heroin and risking your life is really high.

Another example that was heartbreaking -- I was in South Bend, Indiana and I went to a juvenile detention center. Some of the kids who are in the juvenile detention center are there for things that are serious crimes. They stole something big, or they hurt someone. But a lot of the kids who were there are there simply because they misbehaved in school.

There have been studies on the impact of being there. What is clear is that if you go to a juvenile detention center, you are more likely to end up in prison later in life than if you don't. I'm talking about the cases that are more like you misbehaved in school. The kids who misbehaved and didn't go to juvenile detention versus the kids who misbehaved and were sent -- their outcomes are much worse.

Why is that? A good theory is that we're basically building the wrong social network for those kids. Instead of having positive role models around them, we're connecting them with people who doing things that are really bad. And that decreases their prospects and opportunity going forward.

Some of this is also about the values in communities. You were asking about different geographies. I don't know how familiar you are with Raj Chetty’s work on opportunity and mobility. One of the things he found is that in different counties, people are more or less likely to leave home and seek opportunity elsewhere than in other places. And so where you live ends up being a big determinant of opportunity.

I saw some of this play out. I was in Iowa, in a small town called Wilton, and I went to this place called the Candy Kitchen. I got a milkshake. I was talking to the girl who was making the milkshake, and I asked: what do you want to be when you grow up? She said, I want to move to Atlanta and be a dental hygienist. I thought, good for you.

Sure enough, if you look at the data, Iowa scores really high in terms of having communities that value encouraging people to go seek opportunity in different places. And that does end up, I think, being a part of opportunity. It’s not just values, it's also do you have the economic opportunity though.

But a key point is that if there aren't as many jobs in rural areas as there used to be, one of the big questions is: do you have the freedom and desire to go seek opportunity in different places? And that definitely does seem to be different in different places around the country.

Neeli: I am so glad that you're paying attention to this, especially as Facebook and in your philanthropic efforts, because the key to what you've said comes back to community.

If there are two kids and they're both doing the same thing and one ends up in juvie and one does not, a lot has to do with the social capital and who can advocate for them and what we can do.

Mark: There's a lot to do. On Facebook, there are things we can do.

We've built systems over the past ten years at Facebook to help you connect with people you may know already. A lot of you are probably familiar with that. So one of the questions I asked our team is: can we help people connect with people you should know? A mentor, a teacher.

There's a lot of data that suggests that if you have just one teacher or parent or mentor, who can raise your sights, that makes a big impact. If there's an opportunity for us to build that, that's a big deal.

In our philanthropic work, one of the big areas we're working on is criminal justice reform. To the extent that having kids go to juvenile detention ends up being negative for their lives, you want that not to happen. It's not necessary.

Neeli: I agree. For the students we talk about, it's who you know versus what you know. There's a big distinction. The truth is who you know determines what you know. If you don't have certain connections, you never have access to information.

All right. We've got to get back to you. We've talked about all of your travels all over. Have you learned anything about yourself? What have you learned about yourself, Mark Zuckerberg? Inquiring minds want to know.

Mark: I think I started this year as an engineer, and now I’m wrapping it up thinking of myself as more of a community builder too.

Neeli: I want everybody to be a community builder. Go on, tell me more. What do you mean by that?

Mark: The engineering mindset and values are really about problem solving. There are a lot of problems, so we need to focus on that. A lot of community building is about sharing values and being transparent about them -- supporting people and not just solving problems, and protecting people from external threats.

From what I've seen in my work at Facebook and a lot of communities I've visited, and also now as a parent, I think that element is just a lot more important.

Around the country, as we've talked about, building community is just a really foundational element that a lot of people need for support. A lot of this support is not necessarily going to come from the government. I think people want that locally. And that's an area I think we can all help work on.

As a parent, I think you learn that there aren't that many problems that a 2 year old has that require an engineering mindset to solve.

Neeli: Negotiation skills are important at that age.

Mark: I don't know that that's an engineering thing, but that's true.

But being a parent is very much about imparting values. Over the past couple of years, I've focused on that more and more.

But also, if you just think about where Facebook is now in my work there. We have big problems that we need to work through. But I also think that we're at the scale at this point that it's not just about solving the problems. That alone isn't enough. I think we also need to be very clear about what our values are that go into the different decisions we're making. A lot of these problems are problems that no one company can solve. We need to work together. We need alignment on values. We need to be transparent.

We need to recognize that for the scale that we're at, transparency builds trust. Our responsibility is growing and that also means a responsibility to share more about how we think about solving problems. And that also means being more accountable as well.

I'll always be an engineer. But I think this year I really got more of an appreciation for how strongly I care about some of these parts of what I need to do around building community, sharing values, and supporting people.

Neeli: So, last question. Overall, given everything you've seen, the good and the bad, how do you feel about where we are as a country? And would you say overall optimistic, pessimistic, where are you, looking ahead?

Mark: If I seem optimistic, it's because I am.

Neeli: That's the answer I was hoping for.

Mark: One of my favorite sayings is that there are two kinds of people: optimists and pessimists. And the saying goes: optimists tend to be successful, and pessimists tend to be right.

The idea is that if you think something's going to be terrible, then you're going to look for data points that prove you right. And you're going to find them! That's what pessimists do. But if you believe something is possible, then you're going to look for a way to make it work, and even when you make mistakes, even when people doubt you, you're just going to keep pushing forward until you find a way to make it happen.

The world is full of pessimists right now. And there’s no doubt we face a lot of challenges and we have a lot of responsibility and a lot of work ahead. But I think we also have a responsibility to remain optimistic that we can solve these problems. Because optimists are the only ones who will.

Warren Buffett has this saying that I'll adapt slightly for this: be fearful when others are optimistic, and be optimistic when others are fearful.

We all have a deep responsibility to bring people closer together. To believe that we can. To believe that the big questions are not yet answered, but that through our work we can help people build a better tomorrow.

I believe that we can. I believe in us. I believe in you -- the next generation -- because we're the optimists. And we have a lot of work to do right now.

Neeli: I love it. Because as you said, through your experiences, the Burnells of the world and these young Jayhawks sitting here, and the young people listening to you everywhere across the world, I have hope that they will be optimistic and they will break through those barriers, and build community and find a way to solve things.

I'm so grateful that you chose to make the University of Kansas your last stop in your Year of Travel. You make me optimistic about the future. Thank you.

Mark: Thank you all for coming out! What a great way to end the year of travel. Thank you so much.

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Comments 2.

Mahesh Sharma
6 years ago

Great Article Mark Zuckerberg :)

Mark Zuckerberg
7 years ago

Good to discuss