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Buffett and Gates speak to India

February 23, 2011

As you probably know, Buffett and Gates are headed to India to talk about philanthropy.  They’ve set the stage with an article in the Time of India:


Giving back to society enriches us all


In a little more than a month, the three of us will be coming to India for Gates Foundation and Berkshire Hathaway business. But we’ve set aside time on the trip to sit down with some of India’s leading business leaders and philanthropists to learn more about philanthropy in India and to talk about our own enthusiasm for philanthropy and the impact it can have.

Not that India needs us to tell them. When we talk about standing on the shoulders of giants in theUnited States in the personages of Rockefeller and Carnegie, it’s important to note that eight years before Andrew Carnegie would establish the endowment that created the American university bearing his name, Jamsetji Tata established the JN Tata Endowment , which would lead to creation of the world-renowned Indian Institute of Science. Six years later, Tata would pledge half his wealth to philanthropy.

So we come not as preachers, but more like cheerleaders. And first and foremost, listeners. It will be an honor to meet with those families who will be able to join us next month in Delhi, to hear about their own thinking and to speak of the deep satisfaction we have derived from our work in philanthropy.

Over the last two years, we have met with many families in the United States who possess great wealth, to hear about their desires —and concerns —about how to do the right thing with their considerable financial resources. Coming out of those discussions, we decided to launch an effort to encourage very wealthy families to make a public commitment to giving away at least half of their wealth —either during their lifetime or at their death. Called the Giving Pledge, it seeks to establish a new tradition and culture of philanthropy in the US.

We’re just at the starting stages of this effort, but we are encouraged by the 58 families in the US who have agreed to take this pledge publicly. And many more families are having conversations about what they wish to do.

Many of the fundamental principles that caused us to start our philanthropy project in the US are also being discussed both in public and in private now in India. We know our dialogue in India will make for a very special evening.

According to one report last year, the number of wealthy individuals in India may be growing faster than any other country in the world, so it is an exciting time to be having this conversation. Just as India has found its own path culturally and economically, it will no doubt embrace philanthropy in its own way.

From our life’s work in business , we would be among the first to acknowledge the profound impact that economic development and job creation has on societies. But we see no dichotomy in encouraging entrepreneurs to build great companies while also thinking about the manner in which the good fortune that comes with successful business endeavors can be shared with the society that contributed to their success.

There is a wonderful expression attributed to the Mahatma: “The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problems.” India’s long tradition of shared responsibility and generosity are a great reminder that we are all trustees of whatever good fortune life has given us.

Having a discussion at this time in India’s economic history with people who are taking this to heart strikes us as a great way to spend an evening in Delhi.


Any thoughts about the letter to Indian society?

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