Taking the legacy of philanthropy ahead

Facebook CEO Mark Zuck-erberg and wife  Priscilla Chan publicly celebrated the birth of their daughter Max by announcing that they intend donating 99 per cent of their Facebook stock, worth $45 billion, to philanthropic efforts.

Their goal: “To leave the world a better place” for Max and all children. Their focus: Advancing human potential and promoting equality, a blueprint which the couple promised to detail soon.

The announcement is in line with the Giving Pledge, a campaign started in 2011 by War-ren Buffet and Bill/ Melinda Gates to get the wealthiest people in the world to donate at least half of their wealth to charity. Max and children born during this period will grow up in a world that is better than the one as we know now. As pointed in Zuckerberg’s letter, “seeds planted now will grow” and will bear fruit for future generations.

Zuckerberg’s commitment shows that success, when shared, has a multiplier effect.  The Silicon Valley prodigy should be commended on his plan to spend a gargantuan fortune on improving the lives of millions, rather than on the latest fleet of mega-yachts or a private island. Non-profit organisations should seek to engage with him and encourage continued discussion of policy and priorities.

History shows that generosity is indeed contagious. Legendary business barons of the late 19th century – John Rockefeller, J P Morgan, Andrew Carnegie – anxiously competed against each other in extending their wealth to charitable purposes.

Zuckerberg’s pledge could spark other wealthy moguls to contribute as well. Don’t expect matching offers from other 21st century billionaires, but whether the tech titan intended it or not, a gauntlet has been thrown down to the financial elite, at a time when corporate greed is much a concern.

Over the last two decades, as India embarked on its path of economic liberalisation, a growing abundance of wealth is seen, and new industrial houses and families have benefitted. However, the gains have not been equitable and a large part of the country is still lacking basic amenities and infrastructure that people in developed societies take for granted.

The government, given its fiscal and budgetary issues, has also realised that it alone cannot fund all the basic necessities and has mandated corporations over a certain net worth to spend two per cent of their last three years’ average profits as corporate social responsibility (CSR). India is well on its way to becoming one of the world’s leading producers of wealth, so it should come as no surprise if it also moves ahead in philanthropy.

Charity culture

There is a culture of giving among India’s philanthropists that will not only help overcome the problems the country faces but also inspire a new generation of donors. India’s earliest philanthropists pioneered the concept of building wealth for the public good.
 
Jamshedji Tata, for instance, was on a par with his contemporaries Joseph Rowntree and Andrew Carnegie. Beyond a few examples, little is known about the work of the country’s philanthropists, which  must be highlighted alongside the country’s renowned donors like Azim Premji, Anil Agarwal, Shiv Nadar, Ratan Tata etc.

Globalisation and modernisation are bringing new attitudes to the role of wealth.  Many could do more, but face challenges, including issues of transparency and the misuse of philanthropy to pursue political or financial goals, which are drawing public skepticism.

Millions of Indians are generous on a daily basis, as part of their very way of life. This sharing, which comes more from affinity than from affluence, keeps our society relevant.
There are abundant opportunities to support ideas, individuals and institutions that take root in the remotest areas, thereby funding alternative visions for the future. New players are emerging and new platforms are being created to encourage philanthropy.

Though philanthropy alone cannot dominate the national stage, yet it helps design the kind of society that we would like to live in. According to “Skanda Purana”, the Hindu religious text, “one should use 10 per cent of one’s justly earned income on good deeds or works of public benefit”. The concept of charity goes back to ancient times, and the practice of providing for the poor has roots in all major religions.

Finally, this is no time for cynicism. Zuckerberg does not have to do this, but by doing it, he signals to other wealthy people that they can make the world a better place too. There is no dearth of money for good things. Way to go, Zuckerberg.

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