How to give away your billions

A look at some of the ways the world's richest people have found to distribute their wealth.

Some of the world's wealthiest have turned to philanthropy

Warren Buffett, left, and Bill Gates clap during their visit to a Dairy Queen in Beijing, China, on Sept. 30, 2010. (Alexander F. Yuan/Associated Press)

The billionaires topping Forbes magazine's rich list  have had stunning success filling their bank accounts with money. But for whatever reason, whether it may be a genuine desire to help those less fortunate, or perhaps a desire to bolster their reputation as something more than a selfish tycoon, they have also found ways to give millions — or billions — away.

In one case — Bill Gates — the charitable givings reportedly cost him the title of Forbes' richest person in 2011.

Here's a look at some of the ways the world's richest have found to distribute their wealth.

Carlos Slim Helu

Carlos Slim Helu speaks in Sydney, Australia, on Sept. 29, 2010. (Jeremy Piper/Associated Press)

In a country where income distribution is deeply skewed, the Mexican telecom tycoon has been seen to represent the small number of elite who control vast swaths of the economy. That's made the man Forbes puts at the top of the rich list this year feel the pressure to give some of his massive wealth away, according to the New York Times.

Endowments from his foundations had been pegged at $4 billion, but he's vowed to boost that figure to $10 billion and allocate funds for health and education.

Even so, he doesn't wholeheartedly embrace philanthropy. He has said that businessmen do more good creating jobs and wealth through investment, "not by being Santa Claus," according to Reuters.

Warren Buffett

How long would it take to spend a fortune?

Spending at the rate of $1 million per hour, here's how long it would take to burn through the wealth of the people leading the 2011 Forbes' list of the world's richest.

Carlos Slim Helu, $74 billion: 8.44 years

Bill Gates, $56 billion: 6.39 years

Warren Buffett, $50 billion: 5.71 years

The shrewd and enormously successful U.S. investor had for a very long time vowed that his fortune would be given away upon his death. In 2006, he turned his attention to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, earmarking for it a gift valued at the time at $31 billion.

He and Gates have also set up The Giving Pledge, a project that aims to get super-rich Americans to give away at least half of their net wealth.

Bill Gates

The Microsoft founder left day-to-day duties at the software giant three years ago and turned his attention to philanthropy.

He and his wife, Melinda, have reportedly directed more than $28 billion into their foundation.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

According to the foundation's website, it has given away $23.9 billion since 1994. Last year, grants worth $3 billion were distributed.

Among those grants were:

  • $677 million for development projects around the world, such as agriculture, libraries and water, sanitation and hygiene.
  • $1.8 billion for health projects such as HIV/AIDS, polio, nutrition, pneumonia, family planning, malaria and vaccine delivery.
  • $488 million for projects in the United States, including homelessness, libraries and education.

The Giving Pledge

The organization set up by Buffett and Gates in 2010 is trying to convince the 400 richest Americans to give away at least 50 per cent of their net wealth.

So far, 59 billionaires have made the non-binding promise.

One Canadian is on the list: eBay's first president, Jeffrey Skoll. He has promised to donate half his worth, estimated at $2.4 billion.

Wealth came suddenly to Skoll when eBay went public, and he found himself with hundreds of millions of dollars in the value of his eBay shares.

"Until then, I had not thought much about philanthropy," he wrote in his letter to The Giving Pledge. "But with my newfound paper wealth, I resolved to do good things for the world with that money, in smart ways."