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Eight International Philanthropists to Watch

November 08, 2011

(Nick Scott is assistant to the publisher at PND. In his previous post, he wrote about the One Campaign's messaging around disaster relief efforts in the Horn of Africa.)

Most Americans are familiar with celebrity philanthropists such as Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and George Soros. But how many could name the biggest philanthropists outside the United States? And how many are aware that while the U.S. is home to one in three billionaires globally, that number is down from one in two a decade ago, or that Brazil, Russia, India, and China have added a total of 108 newly minted billionaires to this year's global list.

How many people also know that, on average, American billionaires give away more of their wealth than their counterparts overseas -- a generosity that is mirrored across the entire U.S. population, whose overall rate of giving as a percentage of GDP is higher than anywhere else in the world. Of course, American-style mega-philanthropy can be traced back to the late nineteenth century and the huge fortunes amassed by the so-called robber barons of the Gilded Age (some estimates put John D. Rockefeller's inflation-adjusted net worth at its peak in excess of $600 billion). But it really came into its own in the middle decades of the twentieth century, as the U.S. economy became the most dynamic wealth-generating engine in the history of the world, and it continues today.

Then again, a decade into a new century it is increasingly apparent that philanthropy is growing globally alongside rapidly expanding economies in Asia, Eurasia, South America, and other parts of the world. And as it grows, the question on many people's minds is: Will a new generation of billionaires overseas embrace the American model of philanthropy pioneered by the likes of Carnegie and Rockefeller and most recently exemplified by the Giving Pledge campaign launched in 2010 by Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates?

The answer is unclear. For starters, it's important to remember that many of the fastest-growing countries, economically speaking, are still coming to terms with wealth creation on a massive scale. And as Bain & Company partner Arpan Sheth notes, "In the U.S., large-scale philanthropy lagged large-scale wealth creation by a number of decades. I think a similar pattern will emerge in India."

Then, too, we should keep in mind the example of Carlos Slim Helú, the Mexican telecom magnate, who declined to sign on to the Giving Pledge when approached, explaining that he felt he could achieve the greatest social impact by growing his businesses and creating more jobs. Will more billionaires follow Slim's lead in the years to come? No one knows. What we probably can say is that mega-philanthropy will continue to spread as the global economy expands, and that as it does, it will develop differently in different places in accordance with local custom and homegrown innovations.

In the rest of this post, I'll look at leading philanthropists in eight different regions -- India, East Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, Russia and Eastern Europe, Western Europe, Oceania, and Africa -- and briefly mention other notable philanthropists from those regions. (Note: A 2010 survey of the world's distribution of billionaires shows that this categorization scheme doesn't entirely correlate with the distribution of billionaires. Turkey, for example, is home to more billionaires than Africa and Oceania combined, while the United Kingdom alone is home to almost as many billionaires as Latin America.)

A few other notes on methodology: I have not included philanthropists who were born outside the United States but have become U.S. citizens or hold dual-citizenship (e.g., Pierre Omidyar, George Soros, Nicolas Berggruen, and Patrick Soon-Shiong). Foreign currency amounts have been converted into U.S. dollars, and estimates of future philanthropic commitments (e.g., 40 percent of an individual's total wealth) have been calculated based on current net worth. Because personal net worth at these rarified levels can fluctuate greatly from year to year, all dollar figures should be treated as approximations.

Western Europe

Cooper-hohnPhilanthropist: Christopher Cooper-Hohn

Philanthropic activities: Few of Western Europe's wealthiest individuals have committed as much of their personal wealth ($5+ billion) to philanthropy as has Cooper-Hohn. A media-shy hedge fund manager who co-founded the Children's Investment Fund Foundation in 2002 with his wife, Jamie (who runs it), Cooper-Hohn has quietly given some $2.5 billion to CIFF and the causes it supports. Much of the CIFF's endowment is invested with Cooper-Hohn's hedge fund, and it has managed to pay out 4 percent to 5 percent annually -- which is comparable to the mandated payout for private foundations in the United States.

Net worth: Cooper-Hohn does not appear on Forbes' 2011 list of global billionaires.

Other notables: Lord Michael Anthony Ashcroft (#37 in a recent ranking of the wealthiest individuals in the UK), the conservative British politician, businessman, and philanthropist, has pledged to give away 80 percent of his wealth upon his death -- roughly $1.46 billion, based on current estimates of his net worth. Dietmar Hopp (#698 on Forbes' global billionaires list in 2006) and Klaus Tschira (#655 on the Forbes list in 2010), the German co-founders of software giant SAP, both gave gifts of more than $1 billion in 1995 to endow their respective foundations. And in 2003 Switzerland's Stephan Schmidheiny (#354 on the Forbes list in 2010) donated his equity stake (roughly $1 billion) in GrupoNueva, a holding company he founded, to the VIVA Trust. The dividends on those shares, in turn, are reinvested in the improvement of Latin American societies, mainly through the AVINA Foundation, creating "a virtuous circle between the business world and civil society."

Russia & Eastern Europe

PotaninPhilanthropist: Vladimir Potanin

Philanthropic activities: One of the many so-called oligarchs to make his fortune following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Potanin is chairman of the Interros conglomerate, which has holdings in mining, media, banking, agriculture, real estate, and tourism. He's also unique in that he has pledged to leave his entire fortune to charity by 2020. Currently much of his philanthropy targets education in Russia, and he is also a major donor to the world-renowned State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.

Net worth: Forbes put Potanin's net worth at $17.8 billion (#34) in 2011. Like many Russian billionaires, Potanin secured his fortune in the post-Soviet-era sell-off of previously state-owned institutions, and while his net worth took a hit during the global financial crisis of 2008-09, it seems to have rebounded nicely.

Other notables: Major philanthropic investments by oligarchs Oleg Deripaska (#9 on the Forbes list), Alisher Usmanov (#35), and Viktor Vekselberg (#57) would seem to suggest that Potanin's example is having an impact in the region. In Ukraine, Renat Akhmetov (#39), who made his money in coal and went on to found the System Capital Management in 2000, is emerging as a leading philanthropist. Among other things, Akhmetov's Foundation for Effective Governance works to bring about reform in Ukrainian politics, and he has established another charity that is active in the areas of health and child care, culture, and education.

East Asia

Li_Ka_shingPhilanthropist: Li Ka-shing

Philanthropic activities: The Hong Kong-based businessman has given approximately $1.56 billion to date through the Li Ka-shing Foundation and has pledged a third of his fortune -- more than $9 billion, based on current estimates of his net worth, to charitable causes.

Net worth: Forbes put Li's net worth at $26 billion (#11) in 2011. Chairman of Hutchison Whampoa Ltd. and Cheung Kong Holdings, Li has built a wide-ranging business empire that includes construction, banking, real estate, plastics, cellular phones, satellite television, cement production, retail outlets, hotels, domestic transportation, airports, electric power, steel production, ports, and shipping.

Other notables: Although Chinese billionaires haven't fully embraced the kind of mega-philanthropy practiced and promoted by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, there are signs that charitable giving among the country’s mega-rich is picking up. One newly rich Chinese entrepreneur, Niu Gensheng, chairman and CEO of Mengniu Dairy Group, has donated $600 million in company stock to his Lao Niu Foundation, which focuses on agriculture, education, and health care. In a less conventional show of philanthropy, South Korean billionaire and Hyundai Motor Group chair and CEO Chung Mong-koo (#162 on the Forbes list) pledged approximately $1 billion to charitable causes following a corruption scandal I recently wrote about.


Azim_PremjiPhilanthropist: Azim Premji

Philanthropic activities: Back in March, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett visited India to talk philanthropy with many of that country's billionaires. While much has been written in the global press about the reluctance of India's wealthiest individuals to commit their personal fortunes to charitable causes, Azim Premji, whose giving to date totals more than $2 billion, is an obvious exception. Established in 2001, the Azim Premji Foundation focuses primarily on improving state-run elementary schools through teacher training and curriculum improvements, and to date has reached an estimated 2.5 million students in 25,000 schools.

Net worth: Forbes put Premji's net worth at $13 billion (#36) in 2011. Premji is the founder and chairman of WiPro Ltd., one of India's largest IT consulting and services providers.

Other notables: The Tata family has been at the forefront of Indian philanthropy since the nineteenth century, when Jamsetji Tata established the first company to bear the Tata name. While it's difficult to calculate the total value of the family's philanthropic contributions (due in part to the complexity of their charitable organizations and breadth of their philanthropic activity over time), they are treated with reverence in India for their commitment to social issues.

Middle East

Mohammed_bin_Rashid_Al_MaktoumPhilanthropist: Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum

Philanthropic activities: At the 2007 World Economic Forum, Sheikh Mohammed, the ruler of Dubai, announced his intention to endow the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation with $10 billion and a mandate to help close "the knowledge gap between the Arab region and the developed world." To that end, the foundation supports entrepreneurs and scientific research and invests in human capital across the region. While it is difficult to track how much of the $10 billion pledged by the sheikh has been disbursed, the foundation is active in a variety of causes, including disaster relief efforts in the Horn of Africa.

Net worth: Forbes put the sheikh's net worth at $4 billion in 2011. Although Dubai's economy was built on the oil business, Al Maktoum has been the driving force behind many of its transformative development projects, which he hopes will secure the country's future as a hub of business and tourism long after its dwindling petroleum reserves have run out.

Other notables: Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, a nephew of Saudi King Abdullah, is estimated to be worth $19.4 billion (#19) by Forbes. A key member of the Saudi royal family, the prince chairs the Kingdom Holding Company and Al Waleed bin Talal Foundation, which among other things works to improve medical services in Saudi Arabia and supports educational opportunities for Saudi women.

Latin America

Carlos-Slim-HeluPhilanthropist: Carlos Slim Helú

Philanthropic activities: When asked about his personal philanthropy, as he often is, Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim Helú, chairman and CEO of Telmex, América Móvil, and Grupo Carso, will switch the conversation to the benefits his companies provide in the form of jobs and income security. Nevertheless, Slim has endowed his foundations -- Fundación Telmex, the Fundación Carlos Slim Helú,and the Fundación del Centro Histórico de la Ciudad de México A.C. -- to the tune of at least $4 billion and has pledged to boost that figure to $10 billion by the end of 2011.

Net worth: Forbes put Slim's net worth at $63 billion (#1) in 2011, making him the richest man in the world.

Other notables: In placing thirty billionaires on the Forbes list, up from eighteen a year earlier, Brazil confirmed its status as a rising global economic power. But one man who probably won't be featured on a philanthropy list any time soon is Latin America's second-richest man, Eike Batista. The Brazilian mining and oil magnate has made no secret of his disdain for the Giving Pledge and, like Slim, prefers to talk about the social benefits that business can create. His burning ambition to become the world's richest man may help explain his keen interest in the potential of entrepreneurship to alleviate poverty in the developing world.


Mo-IbrahimPhilanthropist: Mohammed "Mo" Ibrahim

Philanthropic activities: For the most part, African countries have yet to experience the kind of turbo-charged economic growth necessary for the widespread accumulation of massive wealth; indeed, the continent is home to just fourteen billionaires according to Forbes, all of whom hail from either Egypt, South Africa, or Nigeria. Based in the UK, Sudanese-born entrepreneur Mohammed "Mo" Ibrahim, founder of the Celtel mobile communications company (which he sold for some $3.4 billion in 2005), now devotes much of his time to philanthropy through the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, which works to improve governance and leadership in African countries. Its signature program, the $5 million Ibrahim Prize, is awarded to a democratically elected African leader who has demonstrated excellence in office and stepped down from his elected position in accordance with the country's constitution. The prize is only awarded when the prize committee feels there is a worthy recipient, which it notably did not in 2009 and 2010. Earlier this year, however, the Ibrahim Prize was awarded to Pedro Pires, who stepped down as president of the island nation of Cape Verde in September at the end of his second five-year term, for his leadership in transforming the country into "a model of democracy, stability and increased prosperity." The foundation also publishes the Ibrahim Index of African Governance.

Net worth: Forbes put Ibrahim's net worth at $1.8 billion (#692) in 2011.

Other notables: Although still young, the burgeoning philanthropic sector in Africa is making significant strides -- as noted by PhilanTopic contributor Michael Seltzer in this post. Nigeria's Aliko Dangote saw his net worth increase a staggering 557 percent, to $13.8 billion, in 2011, making him the richest person in Africa. The Dangote Group, a highly diversified conglomerate, has shown considerable commitment to corporate social responsibility, while the Dangote Foundation has contributed nearly $17 million to a job creation initiative in Nigeria. The Egyptian Sawiris family (Onsi and his sons Naguib, Samih, and Nassef are all billionaires) established their eponymous foundation in 2001 to address Egyptian social issues and watched as it has become one of the most respected charitable organizations in the country.


Andrew-ForrestPhilanthropist: Andrew Forrest

Philanthropic activities: Forrest, an Australian magnate who created the Fortescue Metals Group, one of Australia's largest iron ore mining companies, has pledged to give away the bulk of his fortune and plans to devote himself to philanthropy full-time in the future. His philanthropic activities are mainly focused on improving conditions for Australia's aboriginal population, in part through the creation of employment opportunities.

Net worth: Forbes puts Forrest's net worth at $6.7 billion (#145), making him the second-richest person in Australia.

Other notables: Michael Hintze, an Australian businessman who runs the London-based CQS hedge fund, has made significant contributions to the University of Sydney and British Conservative Party.

Of course, effective philanthropy is about impact as much as dollars, and while I've chosen to focus here on multibillion-dollar philanthropic investments, I suspect there are hundreds, if not thousands, of philanthropists in the U.S. and around the world who are achieving impressive outcomes with far more modest sums. Do you have a philanthropist you would add to our list, someone who is using all the resources at his or her disposal to move the needle on a social or environmental problem and setting an example for others to follow? Use the comments section to tell us more about them....

-- Nick Scott

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Posted by Bradford Smith  |   November 16, 2011 at 10:49 AM

This is a great post, Nick, and lots of good research. It really does show that philanthropy is not just one more feature of american exceptionalism. You also show just how elusive the numbers are in terms of net worth and the level of these billionaires' philanthropy. Transparency remains a big issue. Philanthropy in other regions of the world will develop in ways that are similar to the U.S. but also different. Cultural differences, tax codes, and the role of government and private enterprise will be some of the detemining factors.

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