Monday, April 4, 2011

Will Bill Gates and Warren Buffett visit Turkey?

By Michael Green

Is giving America’s new big export to the world? Bill Gates and Warren Buffett certainly hope so. Last month they visited India on their second foreign expedition, after a trip to China at the end of last year, to promote their ‘Giving Pledge’ – a commitment by billionaires to give away at least half of their wealth. The idea has certainly taken off back home, where one in ten of America’s super-rich have signed on the dotted line. Could Turkey be next?

Critics have been quick to point out that the ‘Giving Pledge’ tours have not been a rip-roaring success. In China Buffett and Gates got a pretty indifferent response, in public at least, and none of India’s economic winners has yet signed on. This is no surprise say some who think that philanthropy is a curiously American habit that is inappropriate in countries with different cultures and social models.

Yet philanthropy is not an alien concept outside America. In India in particular there is a rich tradition of giving, as Gates acknowledged on his visit, that goes back centuries and lives on today through the philanthropy of people like Ratan Tata, the head of the giant Tata industrial group.

Indeed, rather than being a call to action to overseas billionaires, the Giving Pledge tour is better understood as an acknowledgement of a trend that is already underway. In both India and China the fundamentals are in place for a boom in giving – a new generation of entrepreneurial wealth-creators and countries with plenty of tough challenges ahead as they try to turn soaring economic growth into sustainable and equitable development for their societies.

America was already exporting the idea of high-impact philanthropy long before Gates and Buffett set off on their tour – through successful Chinese and Indian Americans giving back to their countries of origin. Take Vinod Khosla for example. Born and raised in India, he earned his fortune in venture capital in California and is now applying his business skills to his giving back in his home country through a series of investments in ‘social’ businesses like the microcredit provider SKS.

Such diaspora philanthropy is a growing trend in its own right. Migrants have always been generous in supporting their families and communities at home – according to the World Bank global remittance flows are now far greater than official aid from the governments of rich countries. But it’s not just about the cash. From Haiti to India, diaspora philanthropists are getting increasingly well organised and focused on making sure that their giving is more than expression of concern but a real force for change.

The Turkish economy is certainly producing the entrepreneurial wealth to fuel a golden age of philanthropy. Maybe, with the help and leadership of the diaspora, Turkey might soon merit a visit from Messrs Buffett and Gates.

Michael Green is the co-author, with Matthew Bishop, of Philanthrocapitalism: how giving can save the world

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