Giving it away: The world’s top philanthropists

Their profile is changing: techies in their 30s made up half of the most generous US philanthropists last year

Mark Zuckerberg is the latest in a long line of business executives who have decided to give away much of their fortune. At just 31, however, he is also part of another trend: three of the six most generous philanthropists in the US last year were in their 30s and worked in the tech industry. Here are some of the world’s leading business figures inspiring others to “give now” rather than at the end of their lives.

George Soros

Donations: $8.5billion
Net worth: $24.5 billion

George Soros fled Communist Hungary in 1947 and emigrated to London as a teenager. He studied at the London School of Economics and wrote to every merchant bank in the city until he landed a job as a clerk. In 1956 he moved to New York to work as an arbitrage trader and gradually became the world’s wealthiest hedge-fund manager, earning a reputation for bold trades. Soros has been a philanthropist since 1979, when he began supporting scholarships for black students in apartheid South Africa. His philanthropic organisation, the Open Society Foundations, supports democracy and human rights in more than 100 countries.

Azim Premji

Donations: $8.6 billion
Net worth: $16.3 billion

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Azim Premji is chairman of Wipro, India’s third-largest exporter of software services, and is regarded as a pioneer of the country’s IT-outsourcing industry. In 1966, after the death of his father, he cut short his engineering studies at Stanford University and took over the family’s vegetable-oil business. More than a decade later Premji saw the exit of IBM from India as an opportunity to diversify into computers and establish international partnerships. He founded the not-for-profit organisation the Azim Premji Foundation in 2011 to provide universal primary education in India and has since become the chancellor of Azim Premji University, a private autonomous institution that aims to make significant contributions towards a just, equitable and sustainable society.

Chuck Feeney

Donations: $7 billion
Net worth: unknown

Chuck Feeney earned his fortune by establishing, in 1960, what became the world’s largest duty-free retailer. For decades he has sought to give away all his profits in the name of philanthropy. To that end the 84-year-old reportedly wears a $15 Casio watch, does not own a house or a car, and once stated, “I want the last check I write to bounce.” Feeney’s foundation, the Atlantic Philanthropies, has invested billions of dollars in areas such as health, science and civil rights around the world since 1982. By next year Feeney will have given €1.5 billion to education projects in Ireland alone.

Warren Buffet

Donations: $25.6 billion
Net worth: $63.5 billion

Growing up in Nebraska, Warren Buffett showed an early aptitude for investment, buying shares on the New York Stock Exchange at 11. Today the 85-year-old is chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway, currently the fourth most valuable public company in the US. In 2006, two years before being ranked by Forbes as the world's wealthiest person, he pledged to gradually give away 85 per cent of his Berkshire stock to philanthropy. Last year alone he donated $2.8 billion to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, as well as to charities affiliated with the Buffett family, encompassing areas such as agriculture, education, gender inequity and nonprofits in his hometown of Omaha.

Bill and Melinda Gates

Donations: $31.5 billion
Net worth: $79.7 billion

The cofounder of Microsoft and his wife established the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000, turning it into the wealthiest charitable foundation in history. The organisation is divided into four areas: helping the world’s poorest countries overcome poverty and hunger, advancing science and technology to save lives in developing nations, improving education in the US, and maintaining policy and advocacy to help advance their work. The couple also founded the Giving Pledge, with Warren Buffett in 2009, to encourage the world’s richest individuals and families into committing to philanthropy. The campaign has led to 138 billionaire signatories from 15 countries pledging to give away more than half of their wealth.