Opinion Columnists 04 Mar 2017 Life isn’t all ...
The writer is a development economist, formerly with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the World Bank. Email: ahujaahuja@yahoo.com

Life isn’t all that easy for a billionaire

Published Mar 4, 2017, 12:18 am IST
Updated Mar 4, 2017, 7:11 am IST
A wealthy person confronts several dilemmas and tough choices both on the personal front and the work front.
Representational image
 Representational image

The world billionaires’ club is rapidly getting crowded. As per the Forbes listing, the number of billionaires globally increased nearly four-fold from 470 in 2000 to 1,810 in 2016. Being a billionaire is a boon insofar as one doesn’t have to work for a living, which is what the majority of people on the planet are engaged in; one can pursue one’s passions and missions. It’s a boon insofar as one is able to slosh in material comforts that money can buy; and insofar as it brings respect and recognition. But being wealthy could be a bane too as one has to “manage” all that wealth as well as the expectations of people around you from you. It’s a bane insofar as it brings the responsibility of protecting one’s family from the potential ill-effects of “easy” money. It’s a bane insofar as it brings an added social responsibility, absence of which could leave oneself with a deep sense of guilt in the midst of widespread economic deprivations. A wealthy person confronts several dilemmas and tough choices both on the personal front and the work front.

On the personal front, some of the dilemmas are: how much wealth to bequeath to one’s children without depriving them of the reason to earn money? How much of indulgence in luxury could be considered as moderate, without setting a bad example? How to shape your kids’ surroundings so that they don’t feel any different from other kids? Similarly, on the work front, they confront several dilemmas: Where to draw a line between doing a business and supporting a social cause, for every business comes with some social responsibility just as there can be a business opportunity even in serving a social cause? How much wealth to distribute in charity, for what purpose, and in what manner? How much charity to distribute between feeding hungry mouths and teaching the people to catch fish by themselves? At the higher end of wealth spectrum, money is not a motivating factor anymore. But a desire to leave a lasting legacy behind probably is. And this desire can be fulfilled as much through business as through social charity.

 

Here are a few tips on social charity that may come handy for current and would-be billionaires:

Being materially blessed, you have a special responsibility towards society. So reach out to lend a helping hand to the needy and discover the difference you make to their lives and, in the process, to your own.

Charity needs both heart and mind. While certain social causes may move you more than others, one needs to look for effective strategies for advancing the cause you support, and ensuring that you don’t undermine other social causes in the process.

There are no easy performance metrics. The business of charity lacks the discipline of the market and the internal controls of corporate governance. So creating an internal oversight in the business of charity assumes a special significance.

Break the mold and step out. While you need to rely on the right set of people to help you advance your interests in social charity, do step out of the coterie every now and then to gain firsthand knowledge of reality. Turn yourself into a commoner to understand the difference your charity is making and what it could potentially do.

Take the game of charity a few notches higher.

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