40 US billionaires pledge to give away half their wealth

Forty US billionaires pledged to give away at least half of their wealth to philanthropic purpose in response to a campaign by Microsoft chief Bill Gates and legendary investor Warren Buffet.

Among those who pledged their contributions are New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, noted Hollywood director George Lucas and media mogul Ted Turner.

In August, the group joined six other billionaires who had already made previous pledges, which includes Gates and Buffet who launched an initiative asking fellow billionaires to share a sizeable chunk of their wealth during their lifetime or after their death for humanitarian cause.

The US has 403 billionaires—the most in the world, and New York tops the list within the country. Buffet, who heads the insurance and investment company Berkshire Hathaway Inc, has pledged 99 per cent of his wealth.

“In 2006, I made a commitment to gradually give all of my Berkshire Hathaway stock to philanthropic foundations. I couldn't be happier with that decision,” he wrote in a pledge letter. “Now, Bill and Melinda Gates and I are asking hundreds of rich Americans to pledge at least 50 per cent of their wealth to charity.” 

In his pledge, Bloomberg underlined the need for rich people to give away their wealth now and not wait until they were dead. “The reality of great wealth is that you can't spend it and you can't take it with you,” he said.

“And so I am enthusiastically taking the Giving Pledge, and nearly all of my net worth will be given away in the years ahead or left to my foundation.” The campaign does not require billionaires to make donations to The Giving Pledge, but only to give away their wealth in some charitable cause of their own choice. George Lucas, creator of Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies, highlighted the need for reforming the education system in the US, to something more than “an assembly line with producing diplomas as its only goal.”

“When I was in high school, I felt like I was in a vacuum, biding time. I was curious, but bored. It was not an atmosphere conducive to learning,” Lucas wrote, noting that he started 'Edutopia and the George Lucas Educational Foundation' to push educational innovation. “Storytellers are teachers and communicators who speak a universal language. That was Homer's primary role, and both Plato and Aristotle used narratives and dialogues as a means of educating,” he said.

In his letter, Ted Turner talked about the strong impression his father's philanthropic efforts like supporting tuition of two African-American students in the late 1950s had left on him. The media mogul noted that the contributions of more than USD 1.3 billion to various causes over the years was one of his best investments. “Those dollars have improved lives, saved species, fought disease, educated children, inspired change, challenged ideas and opened minds; and at the time of my death, virtually all of my wealth will have gone to charity,” he said.

Bill Gates, who has a net worth of USD 53 billion, is the second richest man in the world, according to Forbes magazine.

He was dethroned from the number one spot, this year by Mexican telecommunications czar Carlos Slim Helu with a net worth of USD 53.5 billion.

Bill and Melinda Gates have given more than USD 28 billion to their foundation since it was founded in 1994.

“We have committed the vast majority of our assets to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to help stop preventable deaths such as these, and to tear down other barriers to health and education that prevent people from making the very most of their lives,” Gates wrote.

Below are details on how much they are worth, based on data from Forbes magazine, and how they made their fortune.



September 2010

click here to enlarge

 >> Cover Story
 >> From the Editor