Bill Gates calls on Chinese super-rich to be more philanthropic

By Rebecca Unsworth, April 30, 2014

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Bill Gates has urged China's elite to donate to the poor, in a bid to end the avarice which has helped to create one of the world's most economically divided societies.

By the end of 2013, China had 358 billionaires, second only to the US and an increase from over 41 from the year before. However, according to the World Giving Index 2013, an annual survey by the NGO Charities Aid Foundation, China ranked 115 among 135 countries for donating money and last for volunteering.

In an editorial in People's Daily, Gates writes, "only when we help poor people break away from destitution and illness can the whole world achieve sustainable development. Investing in poor people requires the involvement of every social strata. I believe that the returns from investing in poor people are just as great as [returns] from investing in the business world, and have even more meaning." 

In 2010, Gates, who runs the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – worth 237 billion yuan ($38 bn) – and American businessman Warren Buffet asked 50 of China's richest to attend a charity dinner in Beijing. Many turned down the invitation, reportedly because they were uncomfortable being asked for donations.

Income disparity remains a major issue in China's society, with wages heavily varying between urban and rural areas. According to a 2012 survey by Peking University, an average household in Shanghai brings in 29,324 yuan ($4,690) whilst an average family in Gansu earns significantly less at 12,611 yuan ($2,017) per year.

However, small steps are being taken in charitable giving within the country. Alibaba founders, Jack Ma and Joe Tsai, announced plans on Friday to launch an 18 billion yuan ($3 bn) foundation reportedly focusing on education, environmental issues and healthcare. If it goes ahead, the foundation will be the country's largest. Since stepping down last month, China's eighth richest man, Ma has dedicated a huge amount of time to charity efforts, sitting on the Nature Conservancy's board of directors and helps lead kung fu star Jet Li's One Foundation.

Anthony Spires, a sociology professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong who researches China's civil society, said "this will be the largest foundation in China, if they really do it," he said. "It's on par with Michael Bloomberg's philanthropy". Spires called the move "staggering".

Gates also praised the move, saying that the foundation will "do an immense amount of good, particularly in this remarkable time in the development of philanthropy in China", while Warren Buffet called the execs "extraordinary leaders in business [who] have now become leaders in philanthropy".

[Image via Flickr]

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