FE Editorial : Do it like Gates & Buffet

Written by The Financial Express | Updated: Jun 20 2010, 04:29am hrs
For some years now, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have been topping the world list of the richest men. Ditto for the list of philanthropic contributions (only 17 people on the Forbes 400 American rich list are in the same league of giving). The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, whose spending is broadly targeted towards global health, global development and programmes for improving education in the US, is the largest of its kind in the world. In 2006, Buffett jumped aboard by pledging the bulk of his considerable wealth to this foundation. But the two men have now upped the altruistic ante by launching a campaign to persuade all of American billionaires to donate 50% or more of their wealth to charity. They have set up a Web site by the name of givingpledge.org, where their peers are invited to make a moral commitment (rather than a legal one) to donate more. This drive comes at a time when the Giving USA Foundation has recorded the deepest ever declines in giving for a second year in a row. Yet, the fact remains that ordinary Americans have long set an example in donating generously and the Buffett-Gates pledge claims inspiration from this long-standing tradition. Katrina or Haiti, nature-driven or man-made disasters, common folk or celebrities, the world has had cause to be impressed by American philanthropy time and again.

Consider the top Indian business people and you find a vastly different situation. Sure, there would be this school or that hospital that could prove an exemplar. In the big scheme of things, however, our country currently doesnt boast anyone in the Buffett-Gates league of philanthropy. Hopefully, the situation will be different in the future. Perhaps its the pragmatists that are taking a lead right now. A brand consultancy called Cone conducted US-centric research in 2008, which showed that 79% of consumers would switch to a brand associated with a good cause and 38% of them had bought a product associated with a cause. As similar findings emerge from elsewhere in the world, more corporates are becoming interested in philanthropy. Making a clear, demonstrable difference as well as operating with full transparency will remain the yardsticks for judging corporate social responsibility. But even the cynics have to admit that the Buffett-Gates duo is operating in a different league.