In May 2017, Warren Buffet and Bill and Melinda Gates welcomed 14 new signatories to their Giving Pledge, an initiative started in 2010 designed to encourage wealthy individuals to commit to giving away at least half of their wealth to good causes globally.
These 14 new pledges took the total number of billionaire philanthropists to 168. That’s 168 highly influential, abundantly-resourced individuals giving freely to causes such as refugee aid, medical research, global health, disaster relief, poverty reduction, agricultural research, environment and sustainability research, and to the arts and culture. That’s a whole lot of concentrated effort directed by one powerful initiative.
So where is Batman when you need him?
You’d think with all the money and resources at their disposal at least one of these billionaires would have tried to become Batman by now! Although as cool as the caped crusader was, perhaps these individuals have a broader view than to simply turn heads and gain praise for flashy vigilantism. In fact in the decidedly unflashy act of lending their signature to the Giving Pledge, perhaps they are demonstrating the insight and skill that made them so rich in the first place, by donating to causes that will benefit all of mankind, and not just their own egos.
We live in a complex world with a range of complex problems we must face, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be solved.
Protecting the environment for future generations, investing in the technology and the jobs of the future, ensuring our children have the same or better opportunities than we had, and ensuring everyone has access to clean water and that no community goes hungry are all complex issues. But they are also issues that are solvable when assisted with philanthropy – we just need more of it.
Developing a culture of philanthropy
Included in the new intake of generous billionaires is Australia’s own Leonard H. Ainsworth, a usually intensely private entrepreneur who has decided to take his philanthropy public by signing up to the Giving Pledge.
The broader idea behind the Giving Pledge is to encourage others to consider giving to good causes too, even if they aren’t billionaires. That is why Leonard H. Ainsworth publicly pledged at least half of his fortune to altruistic causes – to encourage others to do the same, no matter their means.
So how much do you need to be worth or earning to consider yourself as a philanthropist?
The short answer is, whatever you are earning right now? That much.
Philanthropy isn’t about how much you’re worth; it’s about how much you care.
Part of life is giving back and trying to make a difference. To quote US politician Elizabeth Warren:
“Nobody got rich on their own. You moved your goods to market on roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You created a business and turned it into something great. That’s awesome! Keep a hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”
That thinking can apply to us all, regardless of our means. Philanthropy is about caring; it’s about looking beyond and wanting humanity to achieve its potential, and giving whatever you can to assist that. For some people philanthropy might come in the form of helping local causes by mentoring a student, volunteering your time or donating your skills and resources. Do what makes you feel good – but find some way to give, to connect, to enhance your community.
Giving back is the essence of philanthropy. It’s an investment in yourself as much as other people and your community, because it’s helping to create a better world and by contributing to that, you’re part of that better world. You may not want to see the more challenging aspects of our reality, but they are there, and people do suffer, and you can create positive results out of problems, if you simply chose to. That can be your legacy.
So don’t wait to start your philanthropic journey. It begins as soon as you decide to do something about it. Make a difference to someone else and think about how you can make a difference in the world, no matter how small. It all counts towards a better future.