Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops on May 20, 2019.
If you were to sit with us for dinner on any given night, you would be privy to a recurrent conversation that surfaces whenever social issues such as poverty, violation of human rights and modern-day slavery, refugee and climate change-caused disasters are brought to our attention via news, books or any other sources: why don’t wealthy people help more? And why do some choose to act in ways that take away from those who have little to begin with?
It’s disheartening to have to ask those questions.
You may have read the latest in the case of foreign farm workers at the Golden Eagle Farm Group in Pitt Meadows. The farm is owned by the billionaire Aquilini family, whose worth is estimated to be at $3.3 billions. Over 41 health and safety issues have been ongoing for the last four years on the farm, according to WorkSafe BC.
The president of the BC Federation of Labour, an organization that advocates for the health and work conditions for farm workers, concluded that the billionaire family ‘has engaged in wage theft’. A reverse Robin Hood type of situation if you will, which hopefully will be rectified and avoided in the future if advocating groups and similar organizations are aware of it.
Still, it leaves a bad taste and makes many of us ask why? If you can, shouldn’t you do good in the world?
But then there are different stories at the other end of the spectrum. Just a few days ago while giving his commencement address to graduating students, American billionaire Robert F. Smith announced he will pay off the student debt for the Morehouse College class of 2019. That collective debt is estimated to be $40 million.
That’s a stellar illustration of the concept of paying it forward in action.
I have argued many times for giving and how any act of goodness changes the world, even if in ways that cannot be seen right away or ever. It’s not just money that can cause change: time, food, a good word, a smile or simply being there for someone when they need it most.
But money and those who own lots of it are in a different category, simply because of the power they hold. There are wealthy people who could make such a big difference in the world, my youngest says, referring to the approximately 1 percent who own half the world’s wealth.
There are, and many do choose to help, some to the point of giving away their wealth almost entirely, which is not something we often associate with wealthy people and not something many know about. Canadian Jeffrey Skoll is among them. He is an engineer, internet entrepreneur and film producer, and a self-made billionaire whose goal is ‘to make the biggest difference possible in the world.’ By 2012 he had already given away more than half his wealth and, as a signer of The Giving Pledge, expecting to keep on going until 95 percent of it is gone.
The Giving Pledge was founded in 2010 by Bill and Melinda Gates, together with Warren Buffet. It is, according to the website, ‘an open invitation for billionaires, or those who would be if not for their giving, to publicly dedicate the majority of their wealth to philanthropy.’ Pledge signers commit to donating more than half of their wealth to helping others, whether during their lifetime or in their will.
As of May 2019, there were 191 people from 22 countries – individuals, couples and families, who signed the pledge and went public with it (that’s because, also according to the website, the goal is to initiate an open conversation about giving and attract more of those who can do it to commit to it.) You can peruse the list here. I did know the extent of this and I was happy to discover it.
Reading through that list will make you feel hopeful, I guarantee it. I do not believe that it is solely up to the wealthiest to make the world a better place (we can each do as much as we can and when we can) but they can certainly make a difference at a large scale if they choose to.
Here’s to hoping that many will. And here’s to hoping that many of us will keep adding our contribution, no matter how small, to making a world a bit better and a bit sunnier.
Here’s to hope renewed.