Sunday, June 25, 2006

Shining Stars of Charitable Giving

The recent announcements of the 2 richest men in the country, divesting themselves of their substantial personal fortunes to charitable endeavors, are reasons for some discussion. Both men well known as hardnosed businessmen, and their personal ventures are equally bold. They represent a departure from the greed that has become the hallmark of the elite class. The courage and leadership of these 2 men are laudable.

Mr. B.G., began his philanthropic venture some years ago, and now reigns amongst the largest charitable organizations of the world. Mr. G and his wife M., are now financing some of the largest humanitarian projects, even outpacing the economic powers, in scope and scale. Among them are pandemics near and dear to my persuasion, HIV/AIDS and malaria. Mr. G. will soon devote himself entirely to their charitable works. To their credit, they have inspired their children to give-back to society, and not expect a lavish lifestyle, from the sweat of their family empire. The G. family is a shining example of the proverb, “…much is given, much is expected…”

Next we read of another extremely wealthy individual who aspires to bequeath is fortune to charitable endeavors. Although I believe Mr. W. B. was the germinal basis for the G. Family’s commitment to “returning the wealth to society.” Mr. B. is someone I have immense admiration for, and who I think should be a role-model for businessmen around the world. I was fortunate to attend a discussion given by Mr. B. a few years ago, and he changed my view of wealth. He spoke of wealth in a manner that persuaded me it could be more of a burden, than a blessing. According to him, the only thing that a man who has $40 billion in assets can buy that I could not, was time. He could travel in a manner to accomplish more in a day than me. I have no basis for rebuttal, but I have confidence in his general principles to accept his assertion. As he puts it, “…a Big Mac costs a billionaire the same price as it costs someone from the middle-class.” More compelling though were his views on our responsibility for shaping a society that provides equal opportunity to everyone…regardless of sex, race, nationality. Too often, we seek shelter in the rationalization that “we inherited the world in this fashion, and that I as an individual cannot change it.” Of course when we do not initiate events, there is no genesis for change. Mr. B. is a remarkable man, and I hope more of us aspire to his views on entitlement and privilege.

In an era where people aspire to wealth for privilege, I am hopeful that this could be the beginning, not the end, for a new trend in redistribution of wealth. This country regales the world with stories of “self-made men,” while defining ourselves as the pre-eminent meritocracy. Sadly I think the hype cannot live up to the reality. The recent congressional change to inheritance laws proves we could be proceeding in the wrong direction. Well-intentioned acts of giving successive generations a “head-start” should not stifle their ambition. In truth, the most effective return on investment could be encouraging the next generations to follow their own passions, and doing the best to equip them to do so. For society, parents could commit themselves to creating an environment where opportunity is not the vestige of a few…where their children are free to pursue their dreams. No one promises that a revival in thinking will be an easy transition. Like any other undertaking, friction impedes progress, but as you gain momentum, movement success is sustained, in part, on previous success. We all can give our children the more enduring legacy of a better society, rather than the short-lived rewards of material inheritance.


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