Business as Usual: The Giving Pledge and its Impact on Society

Richard Falvo, Maroon-News Staff

For this week’s edition of “Business As Usual”, I have decided to deviate from the normal path of discussing specific worldly events or stock movements to instead focus on an idea greater than profits and losses: giving back to the community. In an era of instantaneous news composed of divisive topics and volatile emotions, it is very easy to lose focus on the acts of giving that take place around the world daily. Therefore, this article will focus on the Giving Pledge, a commitment by many of the world’s wealthiest individuals and families to donate a majority of their wealth to  humanitarian and non-profit causes across the globe. Now, you may be asking yourself, “what exactly is the Giving Pledge?” 

Founded by Bill Gates and Warren 

Buffett in 2010, the Giving Pledge proposed an ambitious goal: inspiring the world’s ultra-wealthy to give away at least half of their total net worth to philanthropy, either during their lifetime or upon death. More of a moral obligation than a legally-binding contract, the Giving Pledge has picked up considerable traction since 2010. In August 2010, 40 individuals and families had agreed to participate in the pledge. By 2011, that number had grown to 69 pledgers, and by 2012, the number of participants had grown yet again, this time to 81 pledgers. As we stand in 2019, a total of 204 individuals and families have agreed to take part in the Giving Pledge. With the combined net worth of all current members totaling over 1 trillion dollars, this means at least 500 billion dollars has been pledged to philanthropic causes. 

While it may seem to be just another type of charity that people view as a sort of requirement for those at the top of the economic scale, the Giving Pledge carries a unique set of actions that pledgers take before committing to the cause. According to the Giving Pledge itself, “those who join the Giving Pledge often write a letter explaining their decision to engage deeply and publicly in philanthropy, as well as describing the philanthropic causes to which they are devoted.”

Signatories give to a diverse range of 

issues including poverty alleviation, refugee aid, disaster relief, global health, education, women and girls’ empowerment, medical research, arts and culture, criminal justice reform and environmental sustainability.” In addition, the Giving Pledge has become more globally diverse, with the inculcation of international donors contributing to various causes: “While originally focused on the United States, the Giving Pledge quickly saw interest from philanthropists around the world. In February 2013, the pledge went global with the addition of signatories from Australia, Germany, India, Malaysia, Russia, South Africa, Ukraine and the United Kingdom,” according to the organization’s website. 

I will admit that I personally did not know much about the Giving Pledge before reading about Bill Gates and Warren Buffett individually. One aspect of their characters that I quickly picked up on was the immense amount of time, effort, and dedication each of them puts into furthering philanthropy on a global scale. Seeing two of the wealthiest people in the world care so deeply about giving back to the point of pledging the vast majority of their personal wealth to charity reflects the definition of selflessness. Even more promising is how quickly their cause has grown since being founded in 2010. 

The Giving Pledge now contains more than five times the amount of pledgers than at the time of its founding. Much of this growth should be attributed to the influence of Gates and Buffett. Both men are two of the most well-respected figures in all of business history; thus, their constant push for a more opportunistic socio-economic playing field has caused other wealthy individuals to follow in their footsteps. For example, younger billionaires such as Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founder of Facebook and Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla and SpaceX, have already subscribed to the Giving Pledge.

A shorter and more concise definition of the Giving Pledge comes courtesy of a quote from Bill Gates on the organization: “This is about building on a wonderful tradition of philanthropy that will ultimately help the world become a much better place.” It is my hope that the ultra-successful figures of the future will match such a sentiment toward philanthropy and giving back.