Last October, Forbes tracked the biggest billionaire philanthropists in the U.S. and ranked their efforts with a new philanthropy score. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, cofounders of the Giving Pledge, led our list with $35.8 billion and $35.1 billion, respectively, in lifetime donations. George Soros was third, with $32 billion.
“No other country really rivals the history and tradition of charitable giving that exists in the U.S., which has supported a strong and vital civic sector over the years” says Phil Buchanan, president of the Center for Effective Philanthropy and author of Giving Done Right: Effective Philanthropy and Making Every Dollar Count. “The high levels of charitable giving here also have something to do with the more limited role government plays in this country than, say, in Canada or European countries. And, of course, the accumulation of wealth here has meant there are more mega-givers than there are in other countries.”
But change is in the air. Big gifts have begun to be handed out by billionaires outside the U.S. as well, following in the footsteps of their American counterparts. Since 2012, 28 non-American members of the Forbes billionaires list have signed the Giving Pledge, promising to give at least half of their wealth away (in their lifetimes or after they die). Some, including those who didn’t sign the pledge, have already taken action toward their goal of 10-figure giving: six non-U.S. billionaires have committed more than $1 billion to philanthropic entities, Forbesconfirmed.
One Indian billionaire gave away not only money, but also a kidney. Kochouseph Chittilappilly built a fortune in electrical appliances. In 2011, two months after he turned 60, he donated one of his kidneys to a complete stranger, and a year later, he launched a charitable foundation that focuses on health care and education. So far he’s donated $95 million, including a gift of $79 million to his foundation.
A small number of billionaires outside of the U.S. like Azim Premji—who recently told Forbes “To whom much has been given, much should be expected”—have put billions of dollars into charitable foundations and causes in their home countries and across the globe.In mid-March Indian tech tycoon Premji announced that he shifted a $7.5 billion stake in his IT outsourcing company, Wipro, to his charitable foundation. That move brought his lifetime giving to $21 billion, according to his foundation.
The news not only solidified Premji as the fourth most generous philanthropist in the world, but also makes him the biggest philanthropist outside the U.S. Premji has put 81% of his wealth toward charitable giving in his lifetime, more than any other current billionaire in percentage terms. A close second is hedge fund billionaire George Soros, who has donated more than 76% of his wealth to his Open Society Foundations. Former billionaire and philanthropy icon Chuck Feeney has given away almost all of his $7.5 billion fortune, Forbesreported in 2012, and inspired Bill & Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett to establish the Giving Pledge.
Two non-U.S. billionaires who have signed the Giving Pledge but not yet hit the billion-dollar giving mark are stepping up their philanthropic efforts. In Australia, Fortescue Metals founderAndrew Forrest and his wife Nicola donated about $600 million to their Minderoo Foundation, which launched its marine research initiative in 2018.
South African billionaire PatriceMotsepe has donated over $500 million to projects in Africa pertaining to health, farming, agrobusiness, infrastructure, and music. Last year, the African Rainbow Minerals founder also pledged to donate $250 million to South African land reform and $100 million to education initiatives.
One billionaire, who appears to be incredibly generous, is not on the list below because of a technical reason. Dietmar Hopp, cofounder of German software company SAP, put over 60% of his SAP stake—currently worth $6.9 billion—into a charitable outlet that has distributed more than $800 million since 1995. Forbes still counts the shares in Hopp’s charitable outlet as part of his net worth because he retains economic control over the shares and they are not irrevocably placed in a foundation.
Here is Forbes’ list of the biggest billionaire philanthropists from outside the US, measured by total dollar amount donated through mid-March 2019:
*Net worths are as of March 25, 2019.
Lifetime giving: $21 billion
Net worth: $5 billion
Through his foundation, IT billionaire Premji has prioritized improving the public school system in some of the most underserved parts of India. He established the Azim Premji University in Bangalore in 2010, which plans to expand its student body from a current 1,300 students to 5,000 students, according to the foundation.
Premji himself never graduated from college, dropping out of Stanford in 1966 to take over his family’s cooking oil business after his father died. He shifted into software and expanded the small company into Wipro, which had $8.4 billion in revenue in 2018. Premji serves as chairman.
Citizenship: United Kingdom
Lifetime giving: $4.5 billion
Current net worth: $3.1 billion
Hedge fund manager Hohn cofounded the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF) in 2002 with his then-wife Jamie. Hohn, who had been working at hedge fund firm Perry Capital since 1996, struck out on his own in 2003 to start a London-based hedge fund called the Children’s Investment Fund. Including an undisclosed donation by Perry Capital in 2002, Hohn and Jamie, who divorced in 2014, have given at least $4.5 billion to CIFF, moving assets from the hedge fund into the foundation.
“The original mission in setting up CIFF was to improve the lives of children in developing countries who live in poverty,” says Hohn on CIFF’s website. “This hasn’t changed. I want to solve problems, not make grants.”
Carlos Slim Helu
Lifetime giving: $4.2 billion
Current net worth: $61.4 billion
A telecom tycoon,Slim early on was a critic of the Giving Pledge. “Many of the problems will be solved by business activity and development,” he said in 2011, adding that “Charity doesn’t solve poverty. How much charity has been done in the past years? Trillions of dollars.” Still, he believes in some forms of philanthropy. Since 2006, Slim’s spokesman says, he has donated $4.2 billion to his Carlos Slim Foundation.
He gave $2 billion to his foundation in 2006 and the same amount again in 2010. Most of that money has come from dividends Slim collected from shares he owns in some of Mexico’s largest companies, Forbes reported in 2011. Over the past six years, he’s donated another $160 million to the outfit, which works on improving health conditions and education, among other causes, so people can work to support their families. Helu’s foundation has collaborated with nonprofit organizations, including the Clinton Foundation and the Gates Foundation.
Citizenship: Hong Kong
Lifetime giving: $3.2 billion
Current net worth: $32.5 billion
Since 1980, Li Ka-shing’s foundation has donated billions to education, medical services and research initiatives in 27 countries, including China, where he was born but was forced to flee in 1940 at the age of 12 after Japan invaded Southern China.
“When I received the Forbes’ Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006, I shared with everyone that my charitable foundation, founded in 1980, is like my third son to me,” he told Forbes in 2017. “I hoped to persuade those who can, in Asia, support causes important to society as a duty in line with supporting our children.”
Lifetime giving: $1.9 billion
Current net worth: $5.9 billion
Wyss founded medical device manufacturer Synthes and sold it to Johnson & Johnson in 2012 for $20.2 billion in cash and stock. Wyss is dedicated to protecting the environment not only in his home continent, Europe, but also in Africa, Asia, and the Americas. In an op-ed for the New York Times last October, he pledged to donate $1 billion to land and ocean conservation to protect 30% of earth’s surface by 2030. “Every one of us — citizens, philanthropists, business and government leaders — should be troubled by the enormous gap between how little of our natural world is currently protected and how much should be protected,” he wrote.
He’s already put at least $1.9 billion into his foundation since 2001. The foundation has doled out $450 million to preserve land around the planet, and Wyss has additionally given $40 million to the same cause. In 2018, Wyss donated an undisclosed sum to the Trust for Public Land so it could buy and retire oil and gas leases on more than 24,000 acres in Wyoming where he resides.
Lifetime giving: $1.5 billion
Current net worth: $2.3 billion
Schmidheiny became the president of Swiss Eternit Group, his father’s construction materials company, in 1976 when he was just 29. Since 2003, he has donated about $1.5 billion to charity, mostly in shares of his Latin American industrial assets that he placed in his charitable VIVA Trust.
Schmidheiny—who helped organize the UN’s first conference on environment and development in 1992—has distributed more than $600 million to projects across the world that focus on sustainable development. In 2012 Schmidheiny was convicted by an Italian court of negligence by Eternit’s Italian affiliate that led to 2,000 asbestos-related deaths. Italy’s Supreme Court overturned the decision in 2014, acquitting Schmidheiny.
–Deniz Cam;Forbes Staff