Gates Says Self-Made Wealthy Are More Generous Than Heirs

Bill Gates
Bill Gates, co-chairman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, pauses during a news conference in New Delhi. Photographer: Prashanth Vishwanthan/Bloomberg

Bill Gates, the college dropout who started the world’s richest charitable fund, said needy people depend on self-made millionaires and billionaires to donate money before passing their wealth on to less-generous heirs.

“Our experience worldwide is that first-generation wealth is actually more generous than dynastic wealth,” Gates, the richest American, said today at a press conference in New Delhi. “Both here in India and U.S. and other countries, the biggest givers are those who are receivers of first-generation wealth.”

Gates, 55, is pressing the rich to give away more of their money. He started the Giving Pledge in June with Warren Buffett and offered membership to billionaires who agree to commit half their fortunes to charity. Facebook Inc. founder Mark Zuckerberg, filmmaker George Lucas and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg have signed up. India’s entrepreneurs will have an opportunity to give back as well, Gates said.

“The fact that India over the last 20 years has developed these incredible success stories means that a very high percentage of them in their own way will be giving back to society,” Gates said.

Buffett, who appeared on the dais today with Gates, has said more than 99 percent of his wealth will go to charity before or after his death. The 80-year-old investor amassed the second-biggest fortune in the U.S. by building Berkshire Hathaway Inc. from a failing textile mill to a $210 billion holding company. Gates is the co-founder of Microsoft Corp.

‘Wealth Is Theirs’

“Those who made their wealth entrepreneurially, there’s a sense in which they feel their wealth is theirs,” said Kat Rosqueta, executive director at the Center for High Impact Philanthropy at the University of Pennsylvania. “As opposed to those whose wealth has been inherited, where they feel much more of a responsibility as stewards of somebody else’s wealth.”

Buffett and Gates and his wife, Melinda Gates, said in a statement that they met with India’s leaders of business and philanthropy to discuss giving. The leaders “talked quite enthusiastically about their own approach to philanthropy,” Gates said in the statement.

“Both Buffett and Gates have developed iconic statuses as philanthropists globally, not just in the United States,” said Marian Stern, an adjunct assistant professor at New York University’s Heyman Center for Philanthropy and Fundraising. Buffett “is going to have access before anyone else to these people and to have a robust discussion with them.”

China Visit

Gates and Buffett, whose Giving Pledge has registered more than 50 commitments, met resistance when they traveled to China in September to discuss philanthropy. Some wealthy Chinese declined an invitation to attend a private gathering with Gates and Buffett in Beijing because they’d be asked to donate to charity, Chinese-language newspaper Economic Observer reported.

“Many cultures do things more quietly than we do in the United States,” said Susan Raymond, executive vice president for research at philanthropy consulting firm Changing Our World. Philanthropy is “not something that you stand up and seek public recognition for. It’s something that’s actually just part of the pattern of what is expected of you.”

Buffett has pledged the bulk of his wealth to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He also makes gifts to charities seeking to ease hunger, boost education in the U.S. and promote access to abortions. Buffett has enlisted his three children to help give away his money. Gates, ranked by Forbes as the world’s second-richest man behind investor Carlos Slim, is a Berkshire director.

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