We're Still Waiting On The Next Big Philianthropist From Tech's Elite

Bill Gates

Photo: reuters.com

Self-made billionaires in the US have historically had a very strong track record of bringing significant societal change through philanthropy. The likes of the Carnegies and Rockefellers brought libraries, higher education, and public health to the masses.In recent years, the Gates family is not only eradicating diseases, but also more importantly convincing the uber-rich to take the Giving Pledge (One year later about 70 have taken it). So what about now? With new billionaires created everyday through the monetization of internet-based ventures, are the new money kids filling in where they left off? Aren’t the Gen Y’ers more charitable than their money-centric predecessors?

While the next Vanderbilt has not yet emerged, I like how the youth are building charity into their businesses. Not as outright philanthropic concerns but through incorporating the values of “doing good” into everyday transactions. Tom’s Shoes and Warby Parker have brought the concept of Buy One, Give One into the mainstream. I wrote about large companies like Starbucks that employ higher purpose principals compared to its older rivals. For profit microfinance institutions and venture philanthropy, despite their problems, are expanding their reach. A pessimist may call these marketing strategies, but at the end of the day, they are helping others on a daily basis when other similar for-profit businesses are not. By leveraging traditional business channels, these efforts are frequent, efficient and effective.

Pure play charities such as Kiva or DonorsChose bring the sophistication of tech market exchanges into the non-profit sector. Others such as ConvergeUS and HistoryPin bring about change through social networks. Though I applaud these creative tech efforts, they are small in the grand scheme of the world problems. Certainly in the Valley, amidst of all of this new money, altruism, and technology, there would emerge the next Andrew Carnegie, right?

Not yet. Of Barron’s Top 25 Givers of 2010, only Ebay’s Pierre Omidyar could be considered a new tech entrepreneur. Since Bill Gates, no one from the next generation has taken the helm of leading world philanthropy. Perhaps we’re too early in the cycle (people are too busy filing for bubble IPOs). Perhaps Gates is enough for now (some estimates peg the pledge’s value to eventually exceed $600B). Perhaps a centralized institution is no longer required thanks to technology as individual efforts can yield substantial results. It will be interesting to see who, if anybody, succeeds Bill Gates. Although I’m surprised at the unusually small number of headlines, perhaps even in philanthropy, the game has changed. With the world flattenting at a quicker and quicker pace, buying shoes just might be enough.

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