The world’s richest people are being urged to urgently donate big chunks of their fortunes to the global effort to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, and help millions of people across the globe whose lives have been thrown into crisis by Covid-19.
Some billionaires – including Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey – have committed huge amounts of their money to fund solutions to the unfolding crisis.
But other members of the wealthy elite have been criticised for pledging only small fractions – if any - of their fortunes to address the worst-ever global health emergency, which is set to trigger an economic crisis on the scale of the 1930s Great Depression.
Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and the world’s richest person, has donated $100m (£80m) to food bank charity Feeding America. The charity, which runs a network of about 200 food banks, said Bezos’s donation was the biggest it had ever received, and “countless lives will be changed because of his generosity”.
However, critics pointed out that the $100m donation made public by Bezos represents less than 0.1% of his estimated $123bn fortune.
Amazon is also pumping $25m into an “Amazon Relief Fund” to support delivery drivers and “seasonal employees under financial distress”.
Fran Perrin, a daughter of supermarket heir and philanthropist Lord Sainsbury, said now was the time for billionaires such as Bezos to start “giving back to society in the biggest way possible”.
“Why wouldn’t you want to give more,” Perrin said of other very wealthy people. “I think people in a position to be able to, should give as much as they can. I think that’s perfectly reasonable.”
Perrin, who has committed to giving away all of the Sainsbury’s fortune she inherited, this week pledged £2.5m emergency funding to help people struggling with the economic fallout of the lockdown. The extra money has been provided via her Indigo Trust charity, to which she had already donated £10m.
“We are currently in a national emergency to which charities and wealthy individuals need to immediately respond and play their part,” Perrin said. “There is a huge, huge need for funds to support people and demand will only grow. It’s a perfect storm.”
Luke Hildyard, who campaigns against excessive executive remuneration at the High Pay Centre, said all donations should be welcome, but he added: “Very generous individual grants can obscure the fact that on the whole, wealthy people’s charitable giving is pretty minimal. Indeed, studies show that poor people donate more than rich, as a proportion of their income.”
Perrin said she would like to tell reluctant billionaires that helping to solve the world’s problems could be “the most rewarding challenge you’ve ever faced”.
Her message, she said, would be: “You have a skillset that has made all this money. Now imagine what you could do if you turned those skills to solving the world’s problems. This may be the biggest contribution you can make to the world. Give yourself the gift of knowing you did everything you could.”
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has pledged an immediate $100m towards detection, isolation and vaccine development. Gates has said he is prepared to spend billions in the longer term to develop and produce a vaccine. “It’ll be a few billion dollars we’ll waste on manufacturing for the constructs that don’t get picked because something else is better,” Gates said on The Daily Show. “But a few billion in this, the situation we’re in, where there’s trillions of dollars ... being lost economically, it is worth it.”
Jack Dorsey pledged to donate $1bn (£800m) to fund coronavirus research to help “disarm this pandemic”. Dorsey, who co-founded Twitter in 2006 and went on to co-found payments company Square, is donating $1bn of Square shares to a charitable fund, called Start Small, to “fund global Covid-19 relief”. He said the donation was about “28% of my wealth”.
Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook founder, has committed $30m to the Gates Foundation and Wellcome Trust’s joint research project, the Covid-19 Therapeutics Accelerator. Zuckerberg has an estimated $67bn fortune.
Jack Ma, China’s richest person, has pledged 100m yuan ($14.5m) to “support the development of a coronavirus vaccine”. Ma has an estimated $44bn fortune.
Hans Rausing, grandson of the Swedish founder of Tetra Pak, has donated £16.5m to charities and other groups supporting the NHS.
George Soros, the multibillionaire former hedge fund manager and philanthropist, has pledged €2m to support the “unprecedented emergency” in Milan and his native Hungary. “I was born in Budapest, in the middle of the Great Depression,” Soros said in a statement. “I lived through world war two, the Arrow Cross rule, and the siege in the city. I remember what it is like to live in extreme circumstances.”
Madonna has donated $1m to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to help in the creation of a vaccine.
George and Amal Clooney have pledged $1m (£803,000) to six coronavirus causes including the NHS, relief charities in the Lombardy region of Italy and Lebanese food banks.