I recently read a remarkable story. A young woman from a disadvantaged background in a poor area near Silicon Valley in California had a mentor. She and the older woman met from time to time, e-mailed often and had a good relationship. The younger woman credited her adviser with her success in becoming the first person in her family to reach college.
A year into her university studies, she read a newspaper article and learned her mentor's full name: Laurene Powell Jobs - the wife of the Apple co-founder, Steve Jobs. She is one of the world's 10 richest women.
Her philanthropic work was no secret, but as the young woman discovered, she had been quite discreet. She is involved in College Track, a programme that boosts college enrolment among the less advantaged. However, since the death of her husband two years ago, Powell Jobs has started to take on a higher public profile.
Clearly, she is heavily committed to doing good, and helping turn the world into a better place. As well as education, she is showing particular interest in conservation and nutrition. She is also starting to speak out on sensitive topics like immigration and gun control and many observers believe she will become more prominent.
Reading about her made me wonder why we don't have people like Powell Jobs among the ranks of our own very wealthy in Hong Kong. I remember a few years ago, when Microsoft founder Bill Gates and investor Warren Buffett announced they would give away virtually their entire fortunes, local commentators asked if our own super-rich might do the same. Our big tycoons seemed slightly embarrassed.
In fairness to our local billionaires, they do donate big sums to worthy causes. They could also say that local culture makes it very hard to deny the next generation the family fortune - and many people would probably agree. Indeed, Steve Jobs did not join the Gates-Buffett "Giving Pledge" initiative.
However, money isn't really the issue. What we are talking about is taking an interest and getting involved. Writing out a cheque is easy. Picking up the newspaper and following the local news - not the financial pages - takes a bit more effort. Going out and talking to people who live in terrible housing conditions or struggle to feed their children is hard work. It requires contact with things we don't want to think exist.
If we are honest, not many of us in any walk of life have the patience, let alone time, to take a disadvantaged person by the hand and guide them through a life-changing experience like getting into college. But as Powell Jobs' other activities show, there are plenty of ways of trying to make a difference.
For example, she appeared before the US Congress to argue that adults brought into the US illegally as children should be given citizenship. It is a controversial issue. She has nothing to gain personally from the idea, but she genuinely cares.
Do our local billionaires care? As I say, many of them have foundations and programmes to funnel some of their wealth into good causes. Many people admire these efforts, which can involve serious amounts of money and do make a difference. Others may see them as public relations campaigns.
It is hard to imagine our local billionaires caring enough to publicly support an unpopular cause, such as better education for ethnic minorities, or more welfare provision for the elderly or single parents. Wealth is taken very seriously in Hong Kong, and maybe it brings with it a responsibility to speak up for those with less of a voice.
I know of a few exceptions, but it sometimes seems that the people who care most about the city come from the less wealthy parts of the community. It would be good to see some local versions of Powell Jobs to put that right.
Bernard Chan is a member of the Executive Council