Corporates and Charity: Two Sides of the Debate

The Philanthropy of the Mega Rich

The recent announcement by Mark Zuckerberg, the Founder of Facebook, that he would give away 99% of his shares in his company to charity has brought into focus the trend of Billionaires giving away their fortunes to charity. Indeed, starting with the founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates, and including the legendary investor, Warren Buffett, there are many ultra rich individuals who have or are in the process of donating their entire wealth to charity. While this is welcome news for the Billions of poor people around the world since much of the monies would go into helping them, the other side of the debate has to be considered as well.

Is This Greenwashing ?

For instance, many critics argue that these monies are supposed to be given away to charity amount to nothing but a CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) green washing wherein the corporates simply setup trusts and foundations to handle the monies with the purpose of investing in projects that again follow the for profit model. In other words, instead of following a pure charity model wherein the trusts and foundations donate money to NGOs (Non Governmental Organizations) that are engaged in myriad issues, the trusts and the foundations focus on a businesslike approach wherein there is no difference between them and the corporates that operate in a similar manner.

Paradigm Change Needed

The reason for this criticism is that even the NGOs that benefit from the trust and the foundations are the corporatized organizations which again follow the principles of cost benefit analysis and other methods that might or might not work in the business of solving the problems of the world.

The Business of Saving the World

Indeed, the term the business of solving the problems of the world has been used deliberately since the corporates essentially are saying that whatever money they donate has to be used in a manner similar to their core businesses wherein the bottom line is more important than the means to such ends.

The ends justify the means approach does not always work in the world of NGOs where the complex nature of societal problems is such that a more humane and empathic approach is needed. Another point that is made is that the corporates and their wealthy founders are simply giving money that they earned through an exploitative system and hence, if they follow the same method in donating the money as well, the end result is similar to the for profit model that has been widely cited as one of the reasons for the multiple social and environmental problems in the world.

Worthy Example for Others

Having said that, it must be noted that there are others who brush aside these concerns and insist that any money donated to the cause of the poor is welcome and that at least, these individuals such as Gates, Zuckerberg, and Buffett are making a conscious effort and setting a worthy example for other wealthy individuals to follow their lead and give back to society from which they had earned so much fame and fortune. Therefore, there are two sides to this debate and hence, one must weigh in both sides before jumping to conclusions about whether this new form of philanthropy is good or bad.

Differences between Earlier Era Rich and the Current Rich

Historically, the mega rich have always been at the forefront of philanthropy and the difference between earlier era businesspersons such as the Rockefellers and Gates is that the former donated only a fraction of their wealth whereas the latter along with others such as Buffett and Zuckerberg intend to give away most of their money. Therefore, it is the contention here that this new form of charity is indeed a welcome development given the high stakes in the issues of solving the problems of the world.

Therefore, to address the criticism of such individuals, it would be better for them if they personally get involved in a manner similar to Gates in overseeing the disbursement and the impact of their charity as well as ensure that the projects that they fund connect the macro as well as the micro. In other words, they should not be content with looking at the big picture and instead, they must ensure that genuine grassroots work gets done with the monies that they donate.

Charity Begins at Home

An even better method would be for these individuals to institute responsible business practices in their organizations so that they set an example with the saying charity begin at home being their motto. In other words, what better way to save the world than to follow socially and environmentally responsible business practices and set an example for the others to follow. Indeed, saving the world can mean that one must first put one’s house in order and then proceed from the internal to the external.

Responsibility towards Future Generations

To conclude the discussion, having examined both sides of the debate, we can now say that while these acts of charity have to be welcomed and followed by others as well, there is nothing better than leading by example and ensuring that they change the system from within and actualize a better world for everyone. After all, since Zuckerberg donated the money to celebrate the birth of his daughter, it is worth remembering that the world belongs to the future generations as much as it belongs to us and we have merely borrowed it from them and hence, are responsible for ensuring that what we pass on can endure the future.


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