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Bill and Melinda Gates divorce: Instead of berating tycoons for their philanthropy, ask them for stock

In 2006, Warren Buffett gifted 10 million of his Berkshire Hathaway shares to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. In 2019, the Azim Premji donated $21 billion to the Azim Premji Foundation; part of it in Wipro shares. Both endowments have grown substantially, thanks to rising stock prices.

May 30, 2021 / 01:57 PM IST
Illustration by Suneesh K.

Illustration by Suneesh K.

Circumstances surrounding the divorce of Bill and Melinda Gates have undone a lot of the good work that philanthropists like him have been doing, lending credence to long-standing accusations by some critics that capitalism and charity are uneasy bedfellows. While the Microsoft founder’s personal life should be entirely his business, for some reason it is being conflated with his earlier opposition to Covid-19 vaccines being given immunity from patent protection. In this unfortunate turn of events, several key initiatives like the Giving Pledge or even the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have come under the shade.

While using one unfortunate development to tar a lifetime’s work by the man is wrong, it is equally pernicious to extrapolate the event to show how capitalists and the market economy that has driven them to their stupendous riches do not leave any scope for philanthropy.

Indeed, a parallel development, largely unnoticed in the hype surrounding the travails of the Gates family, proves how a market economy may be the best answer to funding the many problems of our world.

Two of the world’s top philanthropists, separated by geography though similar in spirit, have shown how one of the fulcrums of shareholder capitalism can be used to extend their largesse. The two men in question are the American investing legend Warren Buffett and Indian IT czar Azim Premji and the tool they have used is stock.