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  • Writer's pictureAri Betof

5 of the World’s Most Generous Philanthropists

Updated: Mar 2, 2023

According to The Sunday Times, 2022 marked a dramatic rise in environmental donations, along with increasing numbers of people of color and younger philanthropists donating and driving change.

In the United States, according to estimates from Forbes, the nation’s 25 leading philanthropists have pledged a combined $169 billion throughout their lifetimes. This is up from $149 billion in 2021. The increase is partly due to new information gathered by Forbes, but, in the most part, due to another year of huge giving. Read on to learn more about five of these mega-donors.

Warren Buffett

In 2021 Warren Buffett pledged his annual summer gift of Berkshire Hathaway stock to be divided between foundations established by Buffet’s late wife and three children and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, in turn, pledged to put the money to work in a range of healthcare and poverty initiatives.

In his pledge letter published on the Giving Pledge website, Buffett reiterates his 2006 commitment to giving away his wealth to philanthropic foundations, explaining that he “couldn’t be happier with his decision.” In the open letter, Buffett points out that were he to use more than 1 percent of his wealth on himself, this would enhance neither his happiness nor his wellbeing. Instead, those profits could have a huge impact on the health and welfare of others.

As Buffett acknowledges, although some material things may make life more comfortable, all too often, having a vast collection of possessions ultimately ends up possessing you. In line with this, Buffett joined forces with Bill and Melinda Gates to ask hundreds of rich Americans to make a similar commitment and pledge at least half of their wealth to charity.

Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates

The Gateses may have ended their 27-year marriage, but they continue to present a united front, co-leading the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a vehicle for virtually all their philanthropic giving.

Of the $28 billion pledged by the 50 biggest US philanthropists in 2021, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation accounted for $15 billion of that, with more than half of this money coming directly from Bill Gates’ and Melinda French Gates’ personal funds. In August 2021, shortly before their divorce became final, the former couple announced plans to gift $15 billion to their foundation.

The objective of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is to help people all over the world lead healthy, productive lives. In developing nations, the charity focuses on improving health outcomes and presenting people with the opportunity to lift themselves out of poverty and hunger. Meanwhile, in the United States, the foundation seeks to ensure that all people, particularly those with the fewest resources, benefit from access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life.

MacKenzie Scott

With no foundation as such, MacKenzie Scott gives her wealth away independently, donating $5.8 billion across 500 causes in 2020 alone. Over the past year, she has continued to give away her fortune faster than any other billionaire in history, gifting $2.7 billion in gifts to 286 high-impact groups, including the National Council of Nonprofits and the Children’s Defense Fund, pushing Scott’s estimated lifetime donations to more than $8.6 billion.

MacKenzie Scott, the ex-wife of Jeff Bezos, gave away a staggering 16 percent of her wealth over just two years. In a TV interview, Scott once recounted the Chinese folk tale known as “The Lost Horse,” a parable that points out that it is life’s hardships that teach us our most valuable lessons. Scott explained that it is these hardships we should be most grateful for.

No stranger to adversity, following a privileged childhood, Scott was forced to leave her Connecticut boarding school after her parents filed for bankruptcy. During college, a loan from a friend helped to keep her from dropping out, enabling her to continue studying creative writing under the guidance of acclaimed novelist Toni Morrison. Morrison went on to become Scott’s mentor, helping Scott to achieve her lifetime ambition of becoming a successful novelist.

George Soros

Having pledged some $18.1 billion in lifetime giving, George Soros is one of the most generous philanthropists in world history. His Open Society Foundations support a variety of causes, including human rights, antidiscrimination, justice reform, and economic equity.

Operating in more than 120 countries worldwide, the Open Society Foundations gives thousands of grants annually, with an emphasis on creating inclusive, vibrant democracies. Operating with the philosophy of “What is imperfect can be improved,” the Open Society Foundations started out providing scholarships for black students at South Africa’s University of Cape Town. As Soros points out, his success in financial markets has afforded him more independence than most, placing the onus on him to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves.

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