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Wealthy American Philanthropists Encourage Rich Chinese to Give Too

Warren Buffett and Bill Gates from a news conference in Beijing

Warren Buffett and Bill Gates from a news conference in Beijing

Wealthy Americans Bill Gates and Warren Buffett say they are encouraged to see that China's super-rich have enthusiasm for philanthropy.

Philanthropy was at the top of the agenda for America's richest man, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who met with about 50 of China's wealthiest people at a highly publicized banquet in Beijing.

On Thursday, he compared the United States and China, and said wealthy donors in both countries have similar concerns, such as how to make an impact and how family members should be involved. But he says there are important differences.

"The main difference I think is that wealth here is so new, a lot of these non-profit groups have not been developed, and the notion of what is the role of government versus philanthropy is still being developed," Gates said.

Gates was joined in China by American billionaire Warren Buffett, the third richest man in the world and chairman of Berkshire Hathaway. Buffett says he understands that wealthy people have what he describes as "very human" concerns about privacy.

"Some people prefer to be private and they would rather not have the world know that they have a lot of money," Buffett said. "They may worry about that, they may worry about the safety of their children."

But he says he thinks the most important reason rich people should voluntarily donate money and work for charitable causes - and be public about it - is because it sets a good example.

"Do I really want my name in the paper and everybody talking about it? We hear that in both countries. We encourage people in the United States to come forward. We tell them that they [the public] are probably going to know about it anyway, and the example that people set does affect, it affects how their children behave later on, it affects how their community behaves," Buffett states.

Before the banquet Wednesday, Chinese media reports said some wealthy people did not want to attend because they feared they would be pressured into giving away their money.

Buffett and Gates are both active philanthropists. They have been urging American billionaires to give away some of their wealth during their lifetime or after their deaths.

But the two men published an open letter saying they did not want to push wealthy Chinese to give away their wealth, but only wanted to listen to their views on philanthropy.

The guest list was not made public, although Gates said about two thirds of the invitees had accepted, including Chinese movie star Jet Li.

In a promotional video for his charity, One Foundation, Li says one person alone may not be able to do much, but people working together have the power to nurture their homes.

His foundation encourages people to donate money to charitable causes and has been very active in disaster relief efforts. Li was recently named the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies' first Goodwill Ambassador.

Li says being a public figure has advantages and disadvantages. He says he can easily draw public attention to any public welfare undertaking. But at the same time, he says, people also will notice right away if he does not do a good job.