Zuckerberg fund invests in disease research: 6 other billionaire philanthropists

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaking at the Indian Institute of Technology in New Delhi on Oct 28, 2015.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaking at the Indian Institute of Technology in New Delhi on Oct 28, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

This story was first published on Dec 2, 2015 and updated on Sept 22, 2016.

Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan have announced that they will invest US$3 billion (S$4.1 billion) in research on preventing, curing and managing disease.

This is the first major health-related contribution since the couple made headlines when launching their new charity, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, last year.

Upon the birth of daughter Maxima, Mr Zuckerberg, 32, and Dr Chan, 31, said that they would give away 99 per cent of their shares in Facebook, which were then worth US$45 billion.

The couple control the money in a limited liability company which they said would focus on health and education. The causes are especially dear to Dr Chan, who is a trained paediatrician and previously worked as a science teacher.

Mr Zuckerberg and Dr Chan have also made substantial contributions to education-related causes.

Last June, they donated US$5 million to scholarships for undocumented immigrants, while in October, they rolled out plans for a private school in the underserved community of East Palo Alto near Facebook's headquarters.

Here are other examples of prominent individuals who have pledged their wealth to charity.

Bill Gates

Microsoft founder Bill Gates on the way to meet his wife Melinda at the UN headquarters in New York. PHOTO: REUTERS

With a net worth of nearly US$80 billion, Mr Gates is not only the world's richest man but also the top giver in the United States.

As of May 2013, the 60-year-old founder of Microsoft has handed out US$28 billion via the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which aims to improve healthcare, reduce poverty and increase access to information technology.

He famously said in an earlier interview that he no longer had a use for money and wanted to fulfill "God's work" by pledging to eradicate polio.

His three children - two daughters and son - will inherit only "a minuscule portion" of his wealth, or about US$10 million each.

In 2014, he was ranked the top giver in the United States after making a US$1.5 billion gift in Microsoft stock to his foundation.

Warren Buffet

Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffet at a television interview in New York. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Along with Mr Gates, the renowned investor and Berkshire Hathaway CEO came up with The Giving Pledge, a campaign launched in 2010 to encourage the wealthiest people in the world to commit most of their money to charity.

As of August 2015, over 130 billionaire individuals or couples have signed the pledge to give away at least half their fortunes, including Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, Oracle Corporation's executive chairman Larry Ellison and US business magnate Carl Icahn.

Last July, Mr Buffet, 86, topped his personal giving record by donating US$2.8 billion in company shares to five charities, with the bulk of it going to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Currently valued at US$65.5 billion, he had pledged in 2006 to give 99 per cent of his fortune to philanthropy during his lifetime or at death.

Prince Alwaleed bin Talal

Prince Alwaleed bin Talal giving a press conference in the Saudi capital of Riyadh. PHOTO: AFP

The 61-year-old Saudi Arabian magnate, who is the nephew of the late King Abdullah, pledged his entire US$32 billion fortune to his non-profit organisation, Alwaleed Philanthropies, last July.

Prince Alwaleed, who owns Kingdom Holding, said he was inspired by Mr Gates. The money will help foster cultural understanding, empower women and provide vital disaster relief, among a host of other initiatives.

Alwaleed Philanthropies has funded disaster reconstruction efforts such as Habitat for Humanity's projects after earthquakes in Ecuador and Japan, and a cyclone in Sri Lanka.

Jack Ma

Alibaba founder Jack Ma speaking at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation CEO summit in Manila. PHOTO: AFP

China's second richest man, who has amassed a US$24 billion fortune, is also China's most generous philanthropist.

According to the 2015 Hurun Philanthropy List published last April, the co-founder of e-commerce firm Alibaba donated US$2.4 billion - amounting to about 2 per cent of Alibaba's equity - to his charitable trust over the preceding year.

Mr Ma, 52, is passionate about enhancing healthcare, education and the environment in China. Last February, he also set up a HK$1 billion (S$181 million) fund to support young Hong Kong entrepreneurs. He made the Forbes Asia Heroes of Philanthropy list for the second time in 2015.

This July, Alibaba Foundation hosted a philanthropy conference in Hangzhou to encourage charitable giving from China's wealthy elite.

Li Ka Shing

Property tycoon Li Ka Shing announcing plans to reorganise his business empire at a news conference in January 2015. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

The Hong Kong property tycoon's eponymous Li Ka Shing Foundation has been the main beneficiary of his vast US$31.5 billion wealth.

Through the foundation, which the 88-year-old set up in 1980 and refers to as his "third son", he has ploughed nearly US$2 billion into funding hospitals, schools and universities across 19 countries.

In July, Mr Li's charity gave HK$5,000 (S$880) in cash to thousands of secondary school students from remote or rural parts of Hong Kong.

Mr Li, who is the chairman of Cheung Kong Holdings and investment firm Hutchinson Whampoa, is known for his frugal dress sense and reportedly wore a US$50 Seiko watch for many years before switching to a Citizen in 2011.

Mr Li plans to eventually donate at least a third of his assets to charity.

Azim Premji

Wipro Limited chairman Azim Premji. PHOTO: THE BUSINESS TIMES

To date, Mr Premji - known as India's IT czar - has given nearly half his stake holdings in Wipro Limited to charity.

The 71-year-old, who has a current net worth of US$15 billion, was the first Indian to sign The Giving Pledge in 2013. He donated 8.7 per cent of his Wipro stock (valued at about US$2 billion then) to set up a charity foundation.

A huge advocate of corporate social responsibility, a large portion of his donations go towards causes such as a computer-aided learning programme and the Azim Premji University, a non-profit institution which trains teachers.

Mr Premji has set an annual donation target of 5 billion rupees (S$101.3 million) for his Azim Premji Philanthropic Initiatives grant-making body, with a focus on vulnerable groups such as homeless children and disabled communities.

According to the group, Mr Premji decided that it was a more effective use of his money to fund existing non-profit organisations than to wade in with a competing new charity.

In 2015, he was named the "most generous Indian" by the Hurun India Philanthropy List for the third consecutive time.

Sources: Forbes, Wall Street Journal, Fortune, CNBC, AFP, Time