Rich US pair in India to ask billionaires to donate half to charity

Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, two of the richest men in the world, hope to coax India's 55 billionaires to commit half of their wealth to good causes as part of 'The Giving Pledge'.

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NEW DELHI // Two of the world's richest men, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, took their charity roadshow to New Delhi yesterday where they hope to coax their rich Indian peers to part with some of their wealth.

Mr Buffett, 80, and Mr Gates, 55, who are close friends, were to meet the leading Indian businessmen at a luxury hotel in India's capital to deliver their pitch and exchange ideas on philanthropy.

The philanthropists announced last year that they would seek to persuade fellow billionaires to commit half of their wealth to good causes as part of "The Giving Pledge".

So far, 59 Americans have taken the pledge and the tycoons have said they want to take the campaign worldwide.

"We're not here to pressurise anybody," said Mr Buffett, on his first trip to India. "Everybody has his own understanding of philanthropy.

"What the people in India do is entirely up to them."

Mr Gates, who co-founded Microsoft, and Mr Buffett, known as the "Oracle of Omaha" for his legendary investment acumen, met Chinese billionaires on a similar charity mission to Beijing last September that they declared a success.

India has 55 billionaires, according to Forbes magazine, the third-largest pool after the US and China, and two of the world's 10 richest men are Indians.

But scorching economic growth has opened a yawning divide between India's wealthy and its teeming poor.

Local media have been cynical about the US billionaires' chances of getting India's wealthy to open their wallets.

A recent study by the international consultancy Bain and Co said that "today in India, many of those with hard-earned new wealth are not eager to part with even a small amount of their money."

The guest list for the duo's encounter was secret but was expected to include Azim Premji, the founder of the software giant Wipro, who donated US$2 billion (Dh7.34bn) last year to rural education, one of the largest charitable donations in Indian history.

While Indians have a long culture of giving, wealthy people mostly help household staff or give to local community and religious groups.

Mr Buffett, who has promised to donate 99 per cent of his wealth to charity, said on Tuesday that the money he is donating "has no value to me but has value to other people so it makes sense to give it away".

Rapid wealth creation in India makes it "an exciting time to be having this conversation", said Mr Gates, who distributes money through his charity, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Mr Gates, who stepped down in 2008 from his responsibilities at Microsoft to work full-time at the foundation, said: "Philanthropy is a responsibility, a passion, and an honour.

"And so far as I can tell - after being a parent - it's the most gratifying job on earth," he added.