Are Gulf billionaires giving enough?

Dubai businessman PNC Menon has pledged to give half of his $600m fortune away. Should more of the super rich do the same?

The Giving Pledge is gathering steam. In case you haven’t heard of this initiative, it was set up three years ago by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett (pictured). The deal? You have to be a dollar billionaire to become a ‘pledger’, and you have to be prepared to give half your fortune away to good causes. It’s a simple concept — particularly as you can decide which charities you give your money to — and one that has been taken up by 105 billionaires from around the world. After all, when you’re lucky enough to be counting your wealth in the billions, it becomes virtually impossible to spend it all.

The list of current pledgers on the organisation’s website reads like a who’s who of corporate America. Apart from Gates and Buffett themselves, Larry Ellison, Carl Icahn, T Boone Pickens, David Rockefeller, Michael Bloomberg, Ted Turner and Mark Zuckerberg have all joined up.

And the net has widened in recent months, with several British billionaires — such as Richard Branson and telecoms entrepreneur Mo Ibrahim — India’s Azim Premji and Malaysia’s Vincent Tan (among others) all deciding to give half of their immense wealth to charity.

Earlier this year, Patrice Motsepe became the first billionaire from Africa to join the club, after being courted heavily by Gates and Buffett. Motsepe knows what it is to be poor; he grew up in Soweto, the black township outside Johannesburg, where he watched his mother giving out free food to some of the penniless customers who turned up at her tiny grocery store. Motsepe went on to make his money by acquiring old undervalued mine shafts, and later founding African Rainbow Minerals. He is currently regarded by Forbes as the fourth-richest man in South Africa, and the country’s first black billionaire.

But there has so far been no Gulf-based entry on the Giving Pledge’s website. This does seem a little strange; after all, as you will note in our cover story this week, the Middle East was the only place in the world where the wealth of high net worth individuals actually increased in 2011, according to a wealth report released by RBC Wealth Management and Capgemini.

Credit Suisse thinks that Saudi Arabia and the UAE will see double-digit growth in the number of millionaires based in the two countries in the next five years. The investment bank says the number of millionaires in the Arab world’s biggest economy will rise to 64,000 (a rise of 17 percent), while in the UAE the figure will increase to 48,000 (up by 12 percent).

Last week, however, we heard some refreshing news. PNC Menon, who Arabian Business estimates has a fortune of around $600m, announced that he would be giving half of his wealth to charity. The founder of Sobha Developers — the company that is about to break ground on a $3bn project in Dubai’s Meydan City — Menon has already given back huge amounts to his local community via education and social welfare projects in his native Kerala.

“Once you make all of the money I don’t think you should keep all of it for your family, a large portion of it should go to society,” Menon told us last week. “I have decided that 50 percent of mine should go to society.”

“My view is very simple; I am lucky to have made my money,” he added. “After a certain point in time, money cannot make a difference in your life. I feel that it’s not even called charity, it’s about accountability and the responsibility of society.”

Menon’s act is truly conspicuous in a part of the world where philanthropy is considered vital. Many high net worth individuals have set up foundations to support charitable causes. Gulf governments have spent billions on assisting countries that are recovering from the Arab Spring. And only a couple of weeks ago, the UAE’s embassy in America made local headlines in Missouri by quietly donating funds to the tornado-hit town of Joplin.

At the same time, however, few, if any, have gone as far as Menon. Hopefully more like him will step up to the plate.

Ed Attwood is the Editor of Arabian Business.

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Posted by: Abu Jasim

Thanks Ed for the article. Just to clarify one thing, Mr Menon is an Oman based businessman and not a Dubai one. He came to Oman as a carpenter in the 70s and through the support of a local businessman, they grew the business to become one of the most prestigous and well known interior decoration companies in the GCC. I truelly admire Mr Menon for his pledge and wish other businessmen (both local and expats) follow his footsteps. In addition, I would have admired him even more if he gives a little of that wealth to the charities of the nation that made him wealthy in the first place.

Posted by: Louay Al Samarrai

What a shame that what this man is doing ends up being another "comparative" with Europe/The West when it should be judged by what it is and what it says on the tin! A social and moral act.
For once it would be really great to read/hear these stories withtout having some person - usually living here because their area of the world is not performing so well and has political, social and economic problems of their own start to do the "grass is greener.." Because it isn't and there are far more serious and pressing issues in the West that need focus before preaching to this region.

Posted by: kingkaiser

Louay, Mr. Menon is being held up as an example, as he should, for how other wealthy individuals should behave. The author merely points out that philanthropy is deeply engrained in certain societies, and it would be good to see more of this in the region.

The west has its issues admittedly, but so does this region. Why shouldn't we talk about how it is wonderful to see givers like Mr. Menon residing in the region, and how it would be heartening to see more wealthy from the region share with the world. Or should we wait till every other place is a utopia to discuss the problems of the lands in which we reside (obviously that day will never come).

Posted by: kingkaiser

Part of the problem, in my opinion, is how those of lesser means are viewed here. When you go to the West, those who are disadvantaged are treated as disadvantaged, not inferior. There is a huge difference between the two, and people strive to reduce disadvantages for the less fortunate. There but for the grace of God go I...

Here, people treat those of lesser means or different ethnicity as barely human - honestly, if any of us were to act similarly in the US, we would be ostracized, but here its very much business as usual. See others as human beings deserving of a better life (lets not behave as if being lucky enough to be sitting on top of oil hasn't benefited the region), as opposed to lesser beings because they didnt get your advantages or have your skin color, and I think people may be more generous. But that requires a complete mindset shift....

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