Skepticism reigned back in 2010 when billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffett announced that they’d each give at least 50% of their wealth to charity.
But their commitment, known as The Giving Pledge, quickly gained traction among the ultra-wealthy. A decade on, they’ve been joined by some of the richest people in the world — among them Elon Musk and Mackenzie Bezos — and Giving Pledge participants have collectively pledged more than $500 billion to charity.
The Giving Pledge hasn’t attracted universal buy-in from billionaires. Still, most engage in philanthropy at a scale that dwarfs mere mortals’ giving. They’re joined by a much bigger group of successful but not fantastically wealthy entrepreneurs who’ve committed to giving back in a big way. They all share a simple principle in common: that their wealth is better spent on worthy causes than hoarded for the enjoyment of a few.
1. Craig Newmark
Craig Newmark is no longer involved with the immensely popular website that bears his name (that’s Craigslist, if it wasn’t obvious). These days, he’s focused entirely on philanthropy, which for his Craig Newmark Foundation means shoring up public cybersecurity defenses, protecting journalists, shoring up voting systems, improving educational access and quality, and “amplifying and investing in women in tech,” among many other initiatives. This work centers on three core principles that Newmark says come from his status as an “old-school nerd”: fairness, opportunity, and respect.
2. Andrew Nikou
Andrew Nikou is a Los Angeles-based private equity investor. His firm, OpenGate Capital, earned more than $5 billion in revenue during its first 11 years in operation, according to Entrepreneur.
Yet Nikou doesn’t allow himself to be defined by his considerable success in the private equity world. Through his eponymous charity and XPRIZE, he’s investing in the future of education, healthcare, and social science, one great idea at a time.
Some of these ideas are overlooked or outright ignored by bigger philanthropies. For example, Nikou is working on an XPRIZE to combat bullying in schools. He expects high-performing solutions to utilize disruptive technologies like VR to “[take] kids and adults who are bullying and [put] them in…settings where they can experience what it feels like to be bullied,” he told Entrepreneur.
3. Jay Alix
Jay Alix is best known as the corporate investor who helped General Motors stave off bankruptcy during the Great Recession. But his real triumph came a few years later, when he made a life-changing (literally) investment that positioned the Mayo Clinic as a leading force for healthcare innovation. That spurred a much larger investment campaign that pumped billions into the healthcare system — one that has almost certainly saved lives to date and will save countless more in the years to come.
4. Mark Zuckerberg
Mark Zuckerberg should need no introduction — he’s co-founder and current CEO of Facebook, one of the world’s most valuable and influential companies. He and his wife, Priscilla Chan, are public signatories to The Giving Pledge and — while still in their 30s — have already given billions through their Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. The foundation focuses on capacity-building in healthcare, social justice, and education, and partners with local charities and stakeholders wherever possible.
5. Warren Buffett
Warren Buffett recently stepped down from day-to-day management of Berkshire Hathaway to focus on philanthropy. As an original signatory to The Giving Pledge and the oldest person on this list, he’s well on his way to redistributing the bulk of his wealth to the less fortunate. Still, much work is likely to remain after his death, as he only reached the halfway point of his pledge in 2021 — just in time for his 90th birthday.
6. Bill Gates
Along with his former wife Melinda Gates, Bill Gates is the proverbial man who put it all together. His Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has distributed tens of billions of dollars contributed by the Gateses and other ultra-wealthy benefactors since its inception. Unlike many U.S.-based charities founded by tech billionaires, the BMG (as it’s known in the philanthropy space) focuses heavily on developing-world initiatives. It’s more responsible than perhaps any other non-governmental organization for bringing clean drinking water and basic sanitation services to rural Africa, for example.
Do More Good
Most of us aren’t billionaires — or multimillionaires, for that matter. We can’t give at the scale of the Zuckerbergs and Gateses of the world.
Yet we can do more than we might think, both as individuals and in coordination with other like-minded philanthropists. No matter how modest our circumstances, we can easily find — sadly — people and groups who need support more than we do. And if we really want to make the world a better place, we need to do what’s right and provide that support.