James Thomson Editor

James Thomson is the editor of BRW. Previously he was editor and publisher of SmartCompany and a senior editor at Business Spectator. He writes regularly on Australia's wealthiest entrepreneurs and has deep expertise in small business and the mid market.

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Twiggy’s move to join Giving Pledge movement a call to arms

Published 28 February 2013 11:24, Updated 28 February 2013 11:25

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Twiggy’s move to join Giving Pledge movement a call to arms

Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest says he got his kids’ blessing before signing up to give away half his fortune Photo: Michele Mossop

What strikes you about Andrew Forrest’s letter announcing his decision to give away half his fortune is the call to arms.

Forrest’s support for the Giving Pledge movement, started by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates – where billionaires declare they will give away at least half their fortunes – isn’t just about making a personal statement. The mining executive wants to bring other wealthy entrepreneurs along with him.

“We . . . hope, with our friends in Australia, that our example will give others in fortunate circumstances pause,” Forrest writes. “While giving responsibly is challenging to do well, you will find it even more satisfying than the exhilaration you experienced when creating your enterprises,” he writes.

While Forrest points out that there “must be no sense of obligation, as it’s one’s right to give or not”, there is an almost evangelical note to his letter.

“It was your logic, intuition, focus, foresight, good fortune, relentless determination and work capacity that produced the wealth you now ponder the future of. Yet it is also these same powerful talents that cause you to ask yourself, could I become a major philanthropist and responsibly use my wealth to improve communities and the lives of those less fortunate, potentially touching millions of people?”

Forrest is the first Australian and one of a handful of billionaires outside the United States to join the Giving Pledge ranks. Giving Pledge members include 105 billionaires such as Buffett (fortune of $46 billion) and Gates ($66 billion), New York mayor Michael Bloomberg ($22 billion), Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg ($10 billion) and Virgin founder Richard Branson ($4.2 billion).

“Stuff is not what brings happiness,” Branson writes in his letter. “Family, friends, good health and the satisfaction that comes from making a positive difference are what really matters.”

The pledges set out the way the billionaires want their money spent and why – the differences can be stark.

For example, Forrest’s focus is on long-term measures, such as indigenous charities and education.

“We resist the temptation and pressure to alleviate suffering through short-term solutions, such as cash handouts, as they ultimately weaken people,” he writes.

We resist the temptation and pressure to alleviate suffering through short-term solutions, such as cash handouts, as they ultimately weaken people.

Buffett takes a different view. “Nothing will go to endowments; I want the money spent on current needs.”

But there are common threads. Both Buffett and Forrest make mention of the difficulties of large-scale philanthropy.

Buffett admits his biggest problem is a lack of time and Forrest agrees – his family will help direct the giving.

Branson, Forrest and Buffett all talk about the process of gaining their childrens’ blessing for their inheritance to be given away.

“Our kids looked at it very squarely and looked at the things which they enjoy in life. Having the opportunity to make their own way is immensely satisfying and strengthening,” Forrest told The Australian Financial Review. “With laughter we read on a physio’s wall a caption: ‘Those with the most toys when they die, still die’.”

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