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  • Fri, 18, Sep, 2020 - 5:00:AM

We need more billionaires like MacKenzie Scott

I’m of the personal opinion that the world shouldn’t have any billionaires.

It might sound radical, but to me, the more radical belief is that anyone needs more than $999 million when most of the world’s population is starving. However, if we must continue to have our share of the mega-rich, I’d rather they all be more like MacKenzie Scott.

MacKenzie Scott, formerly Bezos, walked away from her marriage with Amazon mogul Jeff Bezos in 2019 with $35 billion. A year later, she published an update announcing that she had given away $1.7 billion.

Scott listed 116 non-profit organisations that received donations from her, and outlines the reasons she chose them. She made donations based on the causes that she believes in, notably racial equity, gender equity and economic mobility. The majority of the leaders of these organisations are people of colour, LGBTQ+ and women, bringing lived experience to their proven track records of impact in their fields.

But the reason I admire MacKenzie Scott is not that she participates in philanthropy — after all, over 200 mega-rich people have signed the Giving Pledge, which encourages the donation of a majority of their wealth — but the way she participates. 

That there are better ways than others to do charity is not immediately apparent. Shouldn’t it be cut-and-dry?

Not exactly.

Philanthropy is much more complicated than just making donations to those who are deserving or in need of it. And, really, this is to be expected when huge sums of money, corporations and politics intersect.

To highlight what is so special about MacKenzie Scott’s method of giving, let’s look at how some other philanthropists operate.

In 2017, Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan pledged to give away 99% of their Facebook fortune to philanthropic causes. At the time, this fortune was valued at $45 billion. Sounds good, looks good. But with very little digging (considering how vague their initial announcement was) we discovered that this fortune was to be distributed by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is a limited liability corporation, not a nonprofit. This means that the Initiative can give their money to for-profit organisations claiming to be doing charitable work, fund political campaigns and make endorsements — and legally, they don’t have to disclose a thing. If they ever release information about which grants have gone where, it would be a choice and not an obligation.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation one of the world’s largest nonprofits, dedicated to doing philanthropic work. The type of philanthropy they abide by is philanthrocapitalism, which describes the application of market values to philanthropy. Even though Bill Gates has never ascribed this to himself, many experts use the Gates’ foundation as an exemplar of philanthrocapitalism — considering the tens of millions they have given away to large corporations like MasterCard.

It’s easiest to explain philanthrocapitalism by describing those who believe in it.

Philanthrocapitalists love to sponsor a ‘big idea,’ something that uses innovation, new technology and strategies as a way to solve the world’s problems. Philanthrocapitalist donations often come with a lengthy application process, demanding measurable goals, milestones and deadlines.

And these are perfectly understandable safeguards when giving out whopping amounts of cash.

But what if your idea is not revolutionary?

What if you want money to, say, set up a food bank for students in a historically underprivileged neighbourhood without inventing any fancy software?

How do you measure increased opportunity?

Are you to stop receiving incremental payments because the road to education equality was longer and rockier than you had outlined in your pitch?

I’m taking education equality as an example here, but the issues with philanthrocapitalism apply across the board.

Philanthrocapitalism turns charity into a system that employs the same capitalist approaches of investment into schemes with ‘potential’, expecting visible returns (albeit non-monetary, social returns), and pulling the plug on ‘unproductive’ ventures that fail to meet milestones.

This is not to say that people like Warren Buffett, Zuckerberg or Gates have ulterior motives behind their giving. It’s just that how they view effective philanthropy — namely their belief in the applicability of the market system to charity — is inevitably informed by their really, really positive experiences with capitalism.

This is why I respect MacKenzie Scott’s approach to philanthropy.

She is transparent, having gathered a team of advisors to find deserving organisations. She lists the organisations she donated to, and the causes they are furthering. 

Her individual donations (tens of millions in one lump sum) come without conditions. Scott trusts the leadership of the chosen organisations to enact change in the way and at the pace they believe will be most meaningful.

Arriving from her position of privilege, is none of the paternalism or strings attached that can hinder the work of the most deserving. MacKenzie Scott’s flavour of philanthropy defers to the people with lived experience.

It says, I have the money, but I don’t always know best.

And isn’t this transparency, this unconditional generosity, this humility, what the world needs more of?

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  • Billionaires /
  • Rich /
  • Philanthropy /
  • Charity /
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Aimee
Lew

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