Thursday, 24 June 2010

Sharing is caring - ain't that the truth, but is anyone listening?

Do you have an extra billion dollars that you thought you needed but now realize you don't? Do you really need that diamond encrusted mercedes you have always dreamt about? Have you ever felt that $5 billion may actually be too much to leave to your son or daughter? Likely these are problems you may not be facing. Hopefully they are the types of issues you will be fortunate to have to deal with later on in your lives. Yet for whatever reason when Bill Gates & Warren Buffett, the $100 billion men, announced their new initiative The Giving Pledge, I got all warm and fuzzy, and not in the strange 13 year-old boy way at his first R-rated movie.

The Giving Pledge is an effort to invite the wealthiest individuals and families in America to commit to giving the majority of their wealth to the philanthropic causes and charitable organizations of their choice either during their lifetime or after their death.

Take a look at the big-fella Warren 'all-you-can-give' Buffet's pledge on the site: "More than 99% of my wealth will go to philanthropy during my lifetime or at death." Now we first learned of the extent of this gift several years back (queue the YouTube clip). 
Now, however our two fearless leaders have issued a public ultimatum to their billionaire classmates to donate half -- yes I repeat half - of their wealth to you and me (well probably not you and me, but you get the general idea). This challenge issued in the U.S. would generate a total give of perhaps $600 billion.  That is the math done by Fortune Magazine, and it uses the same back of the envelope math I used as a management consultant, so you can probably range that by 20 percent or so (i.e. only $240 billion in the margin of error). Obviously, Carlos Slim realizing that he is the richest man in the world decided to make a big splash of his own by announcing a $150 million gift for health projects in Mexico; he still has a ways to go.

While a significant part of the world wallows away in abject poverty, some of our leaders drown in profligacy. Does the Sultan of Brunei really need a $1.4 billion house? Maybe. Maybe not. It is easy to judge, and you should judge, because it is easy and life is hard. That aside, with billions of dollars going into the coffers of philanthropic efforts, the charity sector is becoming its own industry. Where Gates is leading the way is not only in giving, but also in building a professional approach to philanthropy through the Gates Foundation. Hopefully others will follow his lead in this respect.

Do you think the new billions set to flow for good works will be spent wisely?

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