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From Surplus to Service

The world’s most successful individuals strive to change the world above all else. Generally, they are problem solvers; presenting a profitable solution and benefitting from the opportunity while doing so. Though philanthropy may seem to run counter to the values of capitalism, there’s a surprising intersection between the two, primarily in the way that financial success enables individuals to better serve others.

Many ultra-wealthy individuals did not set out with the intention to be the best in their industry; their success was a byproduct of identifying and addressing a need. Their drive and desire to see change has placed them where they are today. I’ve talked about prominent philanthropists in past blogs, but now, I’d like to focus on three individuals who have changed the world and helped others in the process.

Mark Zuckerberg

Mark Zuckerberg, creator of Facebook, has been involved in philanthropic ventures since 2010, when he donated to a New Jersey school district. Not long after, he contributed even more to Silicon Valley schools, expressing his desire to support education efforts.

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, a program that the Facebook tycoon recently created with his wife, Priscilla Chan, is dedicated to a variety of causes, including scientific research, energy, and health. The Initiative is built on a contribution of 99% of Priscilla and Mark’s stock in Facebook, to be delivered over the course of both of their lifetimes.

Given that Chan is a pediatrician, it is no surprise that the couple has also donated to healthcare concerns, supporting research to cure disease and funding the fight against Ebola, among other charitable contributions.

Though the couple is still quite young, (Zuckerberg is 32 and Chan is 31) it is admirable that they have chosen to exalt others with their success. That said, Zuckerberg has come under fire from individuals who believe that his donations are made with the intent of only supporting causes that benefit him.

While these individuals raise some solid points about the nature of the organizations that Zuckerberg has chosen to donate to, the fact remains that his contributions are still benefitting the less fortunate. We can only hope that Zuckerberg and similar philanthropists will exercise caution when it comes to how they donate.

Bill Gates

Bill Gates has donated more than almost anybody else to charitable causes over the course of his life. Over the years, his methods and goals have changed drastically; Gates had an epiphany after attempting to donate computers to impoverished areas of Africa: that technology, though the focus of his life, meant very little to many groups of people.

Since then, he’s dedicated his philanthropic efforts to promoting education and treating disease, forming the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with his wife to accomplish these goals. Gates firmly believes that, from a lifestyle standpoint, he doesn’t need the billions of dollars that he has earned through Microsoft, and wants to divest himself of the majority of his fortune before he passes away.

He’s worked at eliminating poverty and diseases over the years, hoping that polio can be eradicated just as smallpox was. Gates stepped down as CEO of Microsoft in 2008, wishing to use his time on philanthropic advances.

What’s inspiring about Bill Gates is not only his wholehearted commitment to his causes, but his willingness to learn what other people need and deliver on it. He may have had a rocky start, but nobody could ever accuse him of being out of touch with the people that he helps.

Warren Buffet

Along with Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, business magnate and philanthropist, committed to the Giving Pledge, a promise that encourages billionaires to give over half of their wealth to charity. Buffet is considered by many to be the most successful investor in the world.

Buffet prefers to funnel his money into other foundations rather than promote his own; his interest in the aforementioned Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation led to him donating millions of dollars to the the organization. He has also enabled his children to pursue philanthropy by donating to their respective foundations.

Before the end of his lifetime, Buffet plans on donating 99% of his net wealth to charitable organizations. This pledge is refreshingly down to earth; Buffet recognizes that many others give their time and energy to help others, something that he admits to not having done enough of. In general, it’s a heartwarming read. You can view it here.
Buffet believes that charity begets more charity; and this is reflected both in his children, all prominent philanthropists in their own right, and the Giving Pledge supports other wealthy individuals that wish to follow his example.