Super-rich urged to set up charity foundations like billionaire Bill Gates

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London’s richest residents were today urged to set up a new wave of “Bill Gates-style” charitable foundations to help tackle social inequality and promote the arts.

Paul Ramsbottom, chief executive of the London-based Wolfson Foundation, said philanthropy could “enrich and improve” society by supporting education, medical research, museums and galleries.

But he warned of a “crisis in charitable foundations” and said overall levels of giving were static — with official figures showing more money is spent nationwide on biscuits than charitable donations — and more of Britain’s wealthiest people should consider making gifts.

He added that although there were about 50 major charitable foundations in the UK, most — including his own — were set up decades ago and there was now a damaging dearth of new ones.

By comparison, the US had inherited Britain’s historic “philanthropic culture”. He cited as examples the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative launched by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg   and his wife Priscilla Chan.

“There would be significant benefits for Britain, and London, if more people followed the example set today by Bill Gates and by previous generations of the UK’s own philanthropists,” said Mr Ramsbottom, who will set out his views in a speech next week.

“Philanthropy can play a critical role in an unequal society: shining a light on social problems, funding responses to serious societal need and enriching communities through the funding of museums, heritage, and arts organisations.

It can do things government cannot or will not.  But there is no evidence of a rising tide of philanthropy in UK society or a return to the philanthropic culture of Victorian England. Levels of giving have remained rather static over the last couple of decades.”

The Wolfson Foundation, set up in 1955, supports activities such as research on dementia and other “great biomedical challenges”.  It also funds the arts and the Wolfson History Prize and recently paid for new displays at the Horniman museum in Forest Hill.

Mr Ramsbottom chairs a group of chief executives from the major British foundations. Others in the group include the Wellcome, Leverhulme and Sainsbury trusts. He said each gave away more than £2.5 million a year.

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