Billionaires and International Philanthropy


It was announced in February that a diverse group of twelve new billionaires had signed the “Giving Pledge”, an initiative led by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. This brings the total number of billionaires who have pledged to give at least half of their wealth to charity to 102. The new signatories include individuals from both the developed and developing worlds, indicating a possible shift in cultural attitudes about philanthropy and marking the first time non-Americans have signed the pledge.

There are several British signatories, many of whom have already been publicly engaged in philanthropy for many years. An exception to this rule is Virgin founder Richard Branson, who used to be skeptical of traditional personal philanthropy. His conversion could hopefully serve as a signal to other wealthy skeptics to reconsider their positions.

More surprising, however, is the participation of German Hasso Plattner, the founder of SAP, who is challenging the traditional practices of wealthy Germans to not publicly discuss their giving. Perhaps his example will encourage the country’s donors to become more visible, raising the profile of billionaires and international philanthropy and, consequently, the amounts given as well. Likewise, the Australian Andrew Forrest has also signed the pledge and is working to encourage wealthy Australians to partake in bolder philanthropic efforts.

What is most encouraging, however, is to see billionaires from the developing world signing the pledge, including two individuals from the former Soviet bloc (Ukrainian Viktor Pinchuk and Russian Vladimir Potanin), two Africans (Sudanese Mo Ibrahim and South African Patrice Motsepe), and two Asians (Malaysian Tan Chee Yioun and Indian Azim Premji). There is certainly much room for the relationship between emerging market billionaires and international philanthropy to expand.

Although there could be cultural reasons preventing emerging world billionaires from signing the pledge, it is also possible that this new class of signatories represents a new trend of increasing philanthropic initiatives by wealthy individuals from the developing world.

The impact of this new class of signatories could therefore reach beyond just their donations and lead others to follow suit in a smaller way. There are, by one estimate, 1,223 billionaires in the world. The pledge of philanthropy by these billionaires provides hope that the wealthiest are greatly impacting the fight against global poverty.

– Caroline Poterio Martinez

Source: The Economist
Photo: Forbes


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