Charitable Billionaires: World’s Top 5 Givers

According to Forbes, the world’s most generous billionaires have collectively donated $169 billion in their lifetimes. Here are 5 of the world’s top givers.

1. Bill Gates And Melinda French Gates

Bill Gates launched the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation alongside his then-wife Melinda French Gates in 2000. The Microsoft co-founder and his wife pledged to donate 95% of their wealth and, by 2010, had given $17 billion away to their foundation to support health projects and tackle poverty across the globe. Fast-forward to 2018, and this figure rose to over $36 billion, according to the foundation’s website

Over its 22 years, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has built up an impressive list of achievements. It served as a founding partner of Gavi, the vaccine alliance established in 2000 to improve immunisation access in poor nations. The foundation has donated over $4 billion to Gavi, which is presently playing a central role in the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines in developing countries.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has also worked to improve sanitation in poor nations and has funded 20,000 university scholarships in the US for low-income students of colour. 

Philanthropy is not about the money. It’s about using whatever resources you have at your fingertips and applying them to improving the world.” — Melina French Gates 

2. Warren Buffett 

In June 2021, Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett donated an additional $4.1 billion to charity, bringing his total lifetime donation up to approximately $41 billion worth of Berkshire Hathaway stock, based on market prices at the time of each contribution. 

Today is a milestone for me. In 2006, I pledged to distribute all of my Berkshire Hathaway shares – more than 99% of my net worth – to philanthropy. With today’s $4.1 billion distribution, I’m halfway there,” Buffett wrote in a June 2021 statement

In 2010, Buffett founded The Giving Pledge alongside Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates — a campaign aimed at encouraging the world’s richest people to contribute a majority of their wealth to philanthropic causes. As of January 2021, The Giving Pledge has 231 signatories from 28 different countries. Its signatories include Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, Charles Francis Feeney, Bill Ackman, and Larry Ellison. 

Those who give their love and time in order to directly help others – perhaps adding a monetary gift that requires them to give up the purchase of something meaningful for their own use – are the heroes of philanthropy. America has millions of such givers.”  — Warren Buffett 

3. George Soros

In 1993, George Soros of Soros Fund Management founded the Open Society Foundations, an organisation that primarily donates to international causes, community development, social services, and health and education, with projects in over 120 different countries. In his early years of major philanthropy, Soros provided scholarships to Black South Africans under apartheid, promoted the open exchange of ideas in Communist Hungary by funding academic visits to the West, and, after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, Soros created the European University as a space to cultivate critical thinking. 

In 2017, it was announced by the Open Society Foundations that Soros had donated $18 billion of his wealth towards funding the Foundations’ future work. This brought his total donation to the Foundations to $32 billion

As well as supporting the work of his own foundation, Soros has also aided independent organisations including Global Witness, the International Crisis Group, and the Institute for New Economic Thinking. 

I believe that in philanthropy one should do the right thing, whether or not it succeeds.” — George Soros

4. Azim Premji

As well as serving as the chairman of Indian consulting and IT company Wipro, Azim Premji is the founder and chairman of the Azim Premji Foundation and was the first Indian national to sign up to The Giving Pledge. His foundation, established in 2001, focuses on education in India, where literacy in rural areas is only 69%. In 2018, Azim donated an impressive $2 billion to Azim Premji Trust to help improve school education across the country.

In the past, Premji has said that being rich does not thrill him. By 2013, the billionaire had already donated 25% of his personal wealth to charity. By 2015, he had donated an additional 18% of his stake in Wipro and, by 2019, Premji became the top Indian philanthropist, having donated $7.6 billion worth of Wipro shares.

“I strongly believe that those of us, who are privileged to have wealth, should contribute significantly to try and create a better world for the millions who are far less privileged.” — Azim Premji

5. Charles Francis Feeney

Nicknamed the “James Bond of Philanthropy”, Charles Francis Fenney made his fortune when he co-founded Hong Kong-based DFS Group alongside Robert Warren Miller in 1960. In 1982, Feeney founded The Atlantic Philanthropies, one of the world’s largest private charitable foundations, and made his donations in secret for several years before his identity was revealed in a business dispute in 1997. Over four decades, Feeney donated over $8 billion to charity, universities, and foundations worldwide. In September 2020, the former billionaire closed down The Atlantic Philanthropies after the non-profit organisation achieved its mission of giving away the entirety of Feeney’s wealth that year. 

I cannot think of a more personally rewarding and appropriate use of wealth than to give while one is living – to personally devote oneself to meaningful efforts to improve the human condition. More importantly, today’s needs are so great and varied that intelligent philanthropic support and positive interventions can have greater value and impact today than if they are delayed when the needs are greater.” – Charles Francis Feeney.

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