Uber’s policy chief David Plouffe is leaving the company to join the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the philanthropic group led by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, at a time when Uber’s policy battles around the world continue to heat up.
Mr Plouffe, who served as President Barack Obama’s campaign manager in 2008, joined Uber in 2014 and saw the company through some of its fiercest political fights as it expanded across the US and into 70 countries.
He will remain an Uber board member and chief executive Travis Kalanick said that Mr Plouffe would continue to advise him personally.
In his new role Mr Plouffe will lead political advocacy at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, which was founded by Mr Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan in late 2015. CZI began as an initiative rather than a strictly charitable organisation so it could participate in political lobbying and investing in start-ups as well as making donations.
Writing in a post on Facebook, Mr Plouffe said that he was “thrilled” to be joining CZI which aims to “advance human potential and promote equal opportunity”. He said his job, working with a policy advisory board that includes former George W Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman, would be to find “creative ways to lift the voices of those who want to build a better future”.
“Curing disease, improving education through personalised learning and building technology and tools to help organisations reach their full potential are areas with widespread support and massive potential for mobilisation, great storytelling and smart policy engagement,” he wrote.
At Uber, Mr Plouffe became one of the company’s most high-profile executives when he was hired in August 2014, and his appointment signalled that Uber was getting serious about dealing with its political problems.
He later shifted away from day-to-day policy management towards a more strategic role when former Google executive Rachel Whetstone came on board in May 2015 to lead policy and communications.
Lobbying the globe on Uber’s behalf, Mr Plouffe was a central liaison with political figures, from mayors in cities where Uber was facing problems, to foreign government officials. With a valuation of nearly $70bn, the Silicon Valley transportation company has attracted criticism and censure, although as it gets bigger it has started working more closely with regulators. Mr Plouffe said his time at Uber had been an “eventful and fascinating ride”.
The announcement of CZI’s entry into the political arena comes just one week after Mr Zuckerberg said he planned a tour of the US to attempt to understand how the country has been divided by the impact of globalisation and technology. Some speculated that the tour, which Mr Zuckerberg said came at a turning point after a “tumultuous” 2016 for the US, was a sign of the Facebook founder’s desire to get more involved in politics.
Mr Zuckerberg and Ms Chan have pledged 99 per cent of their Facebook shares to charity. Under CZI, they have brought together their previous philanthropic projects, including several schools specialising in personalised education, and last year they pledged $3bn to “end all illness”, focusing on how technology can be used for basic scientific research. CZI has hired high-profile leaders including Jim Shelton, the former deputy secretary of education for the US, Cori Bargmann, a world renowned neurobiologist, and Brian Pinkerton, the chief technology officer who joined from Amazon.
Mr Zuckerberg said CZI had representation from both major political parties, with Republican Mr Mehlman chairing the policy advisory board. “David and Ken built campaigns for different parties but have also come together to work on issues like marriage equality,” he said.
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