Giving for the love of mankind



John Burman

Published — Saturday 2 February 2013

Last update 2 February 2013 12:16 am

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You work hard. You work long days trying to do the best for yourself and your family.
Whether you are a student at a school, a young trainee starting out in a new career, or a seasoned professional, you want to progress in life. For the majority of people, a successful career is one that is both professionally satisfying and lets them earn enough to provide for loved ones. For the especially ambitious, success might come through starting a business, building it up, and watching it thrive. In an odd way, problems arise when a business venture does well. When you have looked after those closest to you, what do you do with all that money?
There are some people throughout the world and throughout the history of business and finance who have made fantastic amounts of money. The list is an exclusive one. Many invested their talents in the world of technology and one name that stands out in particular is that of Bill Gates, the co-founder of computer software giant Microsoft. Gates is unusual at one simple level alone: He is not just a billionaire, he is a multi, multibillionaire. His current net worth is somewhere around $ 66 billion. But he is also a noted philanthropist, and the following statistic really caught my eye: Bill Gates has gone on record as saying that he wants to give 95 percent of his personal fortune to charity. For the vast majority of people who work every day to look after those closest to them, it is astonishing that someone wants to give away all but 5 percent of what they own.
Bill Gates was also self-made, as in he accumulated his net worth through private endeavor. So, he spent the first part of his life building a business with all the riches that came with it, and he will spend the next part of his life giving it all away. On one level it is unusual, but on another level he will no doubt derive huge personal satisfaction from working to improve healthcare and alleviate poverty around the world. Gates left his day-to-day role with Microsoft in 2008 to devote more of his time to running his philanthropic foundation and he probably quite enjoys it.
Philanthropy basically means “love of man” and as such a philanthropist is someone who strives to promote human welfare. Philanthropy is also defined by what it is not. It is not a business and it is not a part of a government. We focus a lot on the likes of Bill Gates and his hyper-wealth because the headline figures involved are so staggering. When a successful businessman donates billions of dollars to a philanthropic institution, it is big news and we all take note.
Philanthropy is also proliferating geographically. Within the last few days, as reported by Arab News, another billionaire has announced he will donate half of his net worth to good causes. Patrice Motsepe from South Africa is worth about $ 2.7 billion. He has joined “The Giving Pledge,” a commitment to give away the majority of one’s wealth over the course of time. To give it its full name, it is called ‘The Gates-Buffett Giving Pledge’ because it was founded by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, the legendary US stock investor, in 2009.
There is no obligation here, no legal contract, it is all about a moral obligation. By the end of 2012, just under 100 billionaires had signed up. Motsepe is the first African to do so.
A twist to the debate on philanthropy is about whether you have to be ‘rich’ before you give. The story of an American family who were not hugely rich in the Bill Gates or Warren Buffett style is noteworthy. In 2006, the Salwen family from suburban Atlanta, Georgia sold their family home and gave half the proceeds to charity. The family wrote a book about the project called The Power of Half: One Family’s Decision to Stop Taking and Start Giving. Among the recipients of their charity were 30,000 rural villagers in Ghana who were trying to move from poverty to self-reliance. With the remaining funds from the house sale they bought a smaller house, having come to the conclusion that they could make do with less.
Many people were inspired by this story. A number of students at schools in Atlanta started their own “Half” projects, but in a much smaller way, for example, by giving half of their babysitting money to environmental causes. The Salwen project caught the eye of Melinda Gates, the wife of Bill Gates, who helped draw attention to the giving half concept the Salwen’s had devised. The family’s story helped reinforce the Giving Pledge with which Bill and Melinda Gates were involved.
Of course, the concept of giving is not new. Voluntary charity through compassion, friendship, and generosity is a fundamental tenet of major religions such as Islam. The way that software billionaires amass fortunes almost all of which they proceed to give away, is though a fascinating aspect of the modern world economy. Not that wealth is the key factor here. The moral of this story is you do not have to be hugely wealthy to be a philanthropist, you just have to have the love of mankind.

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