Writers Articles And News 


17 August 2010

By Osman Mirghani

According to the Forbes list of the world’s wealthiest people, there are more than a thousand billionaires in the world, with a combined wealth of around 4 trillion dollars. Likewise, statistics indicate that there are around 10 million millionaires worldwide, with an average wealth of 3 million dollars, and a combined total of 39 trillion dollars.

The reason for mentioning these statistics and numbers is due to the initiative launched by American businessman Warren Buffet, with his friend Bill Gates, founder of ‘Microsoft’, and his wife, Melinda, to call upon America's richest people to donate half their wealth to charity, whether during their lifetime or after they die. The scheme, which was launched by its founders under the name ‘the Giving Pledge’, whilst labeled by some U.S. media as the ‘Billionaire Challenge’, has received a rapid response, and has sparked many people’s imagination, with regards to charity work and the capacity of some people to give [to charity]. Buffet and Gates announced that they have convinced 40 of America’s most wealthy to contribute a large part of their finances to charity during their lifetimes or after their death.

Among those who responded to the initiative were names such as Larry Ellison, the computer software investor, with an estimated wealth of around 28 billion dollars, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (worth an estimated 18 billion dollars), and investor Ronald Perelman (worth an estimated 11 billion dollars). Ted Turner, founder of CNN, who already donated 1 billion dollars 13 years ago to the United Nations, in order to step up its humanitarian and development projects, has also agreed to the initiative. Also included in the pledge were investor George Soros, famous presenter Oprah Winfrey, and others.

Surprisingly, a number of the initiative’s recruits published messages alongside the announcement of their donation pledge, and this encouraged others to accept the challenge and support charity work in different areas, in order to help humanity to overcome if only a portion of its problems. More importantly, these messages encourage the idea that humans should not only take, but they should give back to society and humanity. For example, George Lucas, filmmaker of the ‘Star Wars’ franchise, who is worth around 3 billion dollars, said in his message that he would provide most of his wealth to support education, because “it is the key to the survival of the human race”. As for Pierre and Pam Omidyar, founders of ‘Ebay’, with an estimated fortune of around 5 billion dollars, they said: “We have more money than our family will ever need. There’s no need to hold onto it when it can be put to use today, to help solve some of the world’s most intractable problems”.

If every wealthy American [billionaire] responds to the initiative launched by Bill and Melinda Gates, and Warren Buffet, the size of the sum that will be donated to charity will reach around 600 billion dollars. If you took all of it the world's billionaires, the volume of these contributions would reach two trillion dollars. You can imagine what could be achieved with such amounts. The United Nations estimates that 30 billion dollars per year can wipe out global poverty, and similar amounts could eradicate many diseases, support medical and scientific research, and eliminate illiteracy. It could assist programmes supporting orphans, widows and those with special needs, alongside considerable humanitarian and charitable work.

Some say that those giving their money to charity are doing so because they are rich and able to dispense with billions of dollars, and still have billions left afterwards. As for the man who does not own much and cannot afford to give up much of his money, the reality is that he who wants to do charitable work doesn’t look for excuses, but rather the means to help others through effort, a little money or good work. Ordinary people in Britain, for example, donate annually about 7 to 8 billion pounds for charities, and 9 out of 10 individuals say they make a donation to some type of charity organisation. During 2009 alone, Americans donated around 300 billion dollars to charity work; and most of these donations were simply from ordinary people.

In our societies, there are also many charitable people, who support acts of kindness and goodness, some of whom stand behind charitable and humanitarian projects and organisations, to support orphans, widows and people with special needs. Some of them offer scholarships to poor children, some of them build hospitals. There are officials in privileged positions who support charity work through money, time and effort, and they urge those who are in a position to do so to continue to support humanitarian work. But all these people are still too few in number, given the volume of wealth and prestige in our societies, and given that our religious teachings tell us of the values of compassion and philanthropy and to help those in need as much as we can. Yet we do not respond to an orphan, and our ears are deaf to the moans of the sick or the hungry.

Our modern life has led to the erosion of many of our values, and led us to materialism. Maybe some of us remember how our fathers and grandfathers were always reminding us of generosity and [our] wider existence, and teaching us not to forget the poor and needy. What we need today is to spread the culture of philanthropy, beginning in the classroom, to educate our children about spiritual and moral values, This will give them something different to the ‘iPhone’ culture, and values of consumption and greed.

Osman Mirghani is Asharq Al-Awsat's Senior Editor-at-Large

 

 

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