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Philanthropy

Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan can be the inspiration for China’s rich to give their money away

Facebook founder marks birth of his daughter by pledging to donate 99 per cent of his wealth to charity, a move that tycoons in China should follow

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 December, 2015, 5:08pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 April, 2016, 1:01pm

Business tycoons have to walk a fine line in society. While they have every right to enjoy the fruits of their hard work, they are also expected to give back to the communities from which they gained their largesse. Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, have done that and more with their decision to gradually give away 99 per cent of their wealth, currently valued at US$45 billion. A gift marking the birth of their first child, it is a reminder to the super-rich in China and elsewhere that they have an obligation to be charitable.

Society is acutely aware of the widening gap between rich and poor. It is why so much negativity surrounds the flaunting of extreme wealth; the tens of millions of dollars paid recently at auction by a Hong Kong tycoon for diamonds and a mainland counterpart for paintings were greeted less with awe than incredulity. If only the vast amounts had gone towards helping the poor or improving education or health care, is the typical reaction. Building a business empire through hard work and ingenuity is admired, but spending the gains frivolously is understandably frowned upon.

It is therefore, in Facebook parlance, impossible not to “like” the objectives of the newly established Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. Initially, the stated focus will be on “personalised learning, curing disease, connecting people and building strong communities”. Charity is not new to Zuckerberg and his wife; they have already given away more than US$1 billion to a range of causes. Zuckerberg in 2010 was among 16 billionaires who pledged to eventually give away most of their wealth to charity.

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, Berkshire Hathaway chairman Warren Buffett and Oracle’s Larry Ellison, wealthier than Zuckerberg, have also made the pledge. Hong Kong’s tycoons have a good record of setting up foundations and giving to worthy causes, but those on the mainland have less of a reputation for being charitable. A dinner hosted by Buffett in Beijing in 2010 to promote philanthropy was notable more for the numbers of wealthy who stayed away than attended.

Philanthropy is a new concept to the mainland’s billionaires. The Chinese system is not conducive to the idea, with those who give and receive both being taxed; in Hong Kong, as in the US, charity attracts tax breaks. Further hindering philanthropic work is a lack of supporting infrastructure and a common belief that fortunes should be left for children. Zuckerberg and Chan, their thoughts of a better world for their daughter in mind, have to serve as an inspiration. It is what we expect of the fabulously rich.