By Robert Frank - 26.
Last week’s meeting of the Great and the Good (or the Richest and Richer) was bound to draw criticism.
The New York meeting of billionaires Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, David Rockefeller, Eli Broad, George Soros, Ted Turner, Oprah, Michael Bloomberg and others was described by the Chronicle of Philanthropy (deleted page, but see below) as an informal gathering aimed at encouraging philanthropy. Just a few billionaires getting together for drinks and dinner and a friendly chat about how to promote charitable giving.
There was no agenda, we were told. And no plan for a follow-up meeting.
But in an age of fallen wealth idols, it was inevitable that a meeting of billionaire minds would draw scrutiny. Surely all that money and power in one room had to spell trouble for the rest of us.
An article in the Times of London, headlined "Billionaire Club in Bid to Curb World Population," said the issues discussed in the top-secret meeting included health care, education and--by far the most controversial--slowing the global population growth.
"Taking their cue from Gates they agreed that overpopulation was a priority," the article said, adding that “this could result in a challenge to some Third World politicians who believe contraception and female education weaken traditional values."
Such a stand wouldn't be surprising. Mssrs. Gates, Buffett and Turner have been quietly worrying about Malthusian population problems for years. Mr. Gates in February outlined a plan to try to cap the world's population at 8.3 billion people, rather than the projected 9.3 billion at which the population is expected to peak.
But some right-leaning blogs have started attacking the billionaires as forming a kind of secret sterilization society or giant ATM to fund abortions. It fed into time-honored fears of the rich using their wealth to reshape mankind in its preferred image. Some are raising the specter of eugenics.
I am not taking a stand on population control. But from what I was personally told about the meeting--and what the Times spells out further down in its story--population control was just one of many items raised during the meeting, as each philanthropist talked about what they were working on. It wasn't the reason for meeting and there are no real plans for a follow-up confab.
The notion that this secret gathering was aimed mostly at shrinking the world's population just doesn't ring true.
That said, almost all of the attendees are politically liberal. Do you think this Star Chamber of Philanthropists is something to worry about or something to be grateful for?
The deleted page here retrieved from the waybackmachine:
America's Top Philanthropists Hold Private Meeting to Discuss Global Problems
By Maria Di Mento and Ian Wilhelm - May 20, 2009
In a quiet meeting closed to the news media and the public, Bill Gates, David Rockefeller Sr., Oprah Winfrey, and other leading philanthropists met in New York this month to discuss ways to promote charitable giving and make their philanthropy more effective in fighting problems at home and abroad.
The unusual event, which occurred May 5 at Rockefeller University in New York, was an unprecedented gathering of the world’s wealthiest — and most generous — people. Together, the philanthropists in the room have committed a total of more than $72.5-billion to charitable causes since 1996, according to Chronicle of Philanthropy tallies.
While the meeting and its hush-hush nature has triggered intense speculation by the news media about what was discussed, Patricia Q. Stonesifer, former chief executive of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said it was simply a gathering of people who have a common passion for helping others.
“A group of philanthropists came together to discuss their giving,” said Ms. Stonesifer, who attended the meeting. “There’s really no secret about that. It was an informal get-together and a chance to exchange ideas about what motivates them and what they have learned so far.”
“There was an enormous amount of enthusiasm and excitement around their giving and that was a very big part of what they were there for,” she added.
Among the high-profile participants were Ted Turner, Warren E. Buffett, George Soros, Peter G. Peterson, Eli Broad, and New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. (All of those philanthropists have appeared at one time on The Chronicle’s ranking of America’s most-generous donors.)
Mr. Buffett, Mr. Rockefeller, and Mr. Gates called together the elite group, sending a short letter of invitation to each of the guests. Mr. Rockefeller arranged the location — the private Manhattan residence of Rockefeller University’s president. (Mr. Rockefeller is an honorary member of the institution’s Board of Trustees.)
Ms. Stonesifer, who helped coordinate the meeting, said it started at 3 p.m. and lasted through dinner. Given the personalities in the room, the meeting touched upon a variety of philanthropy topics, said Ms. Stonesifer, who is currently chairwoman of the Smithsonian Institution’s Board of Regents.
“It was a wide-ranging conversation,” she said, “but they each shared what motivates their giving, their areas of focus of their work, the lessons learned, and thoughts on how we might increase giving.”
Indeed, the philanthropic interests represented on that day were rather diverse. For example, Mr. Peterson, co-founder of a private-equity firm, is focused on changing the government’s financing of social programs and other fiscal issues, while Ms. Winfrey has primarily given money to education efforts in South Africa and elsewhere.
Ms. Stonesifer — and others who attended the event — declined to say what was specifically talked about. The former Gates foundation leader did say that the attendees are not working on a major collaborative charitable project but do plan to continue to talk to one another.
“It was a really great discussion, and we agreed to continue the dialogue in the future, but there were no specific action items out of the meeting,” she said.
With such a powerful guest list, some blog writers have fixated on the meeting as the origins of some international conspiracy. But Ms. Stonesifer objected to the meeting being described as a “secret” event with mysterious intent.
“It was a private gathering. There are often opportunities for each of these individuals to discuss their giving in public — and they often do. But this really was a conversation among friends and colleagues.”
She added: “People are automatically curious about these types of things. But they were all quite matter-of-fact about why they were there. It was like a gathering that you and I have, but it was just a different group of friends and colleagues discussing what they care about.”
What should the donors have discussed — and what should top philanthropists do to help struggling charities in the tough economy? Join the discussion in our Give & Take column, where dozens of people are weighing in with their views.
Wednesday May 20, 2009 | Permalink
This is similair to deals that get made on elite golf courses that only certain people can access. The fact that it was exclusive and closed to a very specific kind of funder/philanthropist, lends itself to thoughts of conspiring to plan for xyz whether that was the intent or not. It reminds me of the closed door meetings Ex-VP Qualye and Cheney had to just meet and talk about ideas that in the end effected all, but only a few participated in the decision. I am dissappointed to see in the philanthropic, social giving community money equals power and power controls. At a minimum, broaden the invite or provide a public statement.
— lynda parmely May 21, 01:20 PM
I am glad they met. With that much firepower I think they should consider concentrating their efforts in five year intervals on places that can be turned around. I think we need more concentrated global efforts to create paradigm shifts in places that are ripe for positive change, and thus demonstrate that we can turn things around. Our philanthropy, including our peace and development work, is spread so thin that we can’t see the results, which leads to despair and less giving.
— Marc Gopin May 22, 04:15 PM
I hope they talked about global warming and how to solve that crisis. If we/they don’t, nothing else matters.
— John Hunting May 26, 12:34 PM
Oprah Winfrey's charity challenge
Eleven of the world's wealthiest people, including Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, met in secret a fortnight ago to discuss the future of philanthropy in light of the continued global economic crisis.
Oprah Winfrey opens her Leadership Academy for Girls school in South Africa, just one of the good causes she is involved in Photo: AP
By James Quinn, Wall Street Correspondent - 21 May 2009
Other attendees included Oprah Winfrey, the billionaire chat show host, Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York, Ted Turner, the media mogul, and George Soros, the man who "broke the Bank of England" in 1992.
Although details of the meeting are only now emerging, it is believed the group met to brainstorm how best to bolster charitable giving in spite of the recent reduction in wealth.
Despite market conditions, the 11 attendees still share a combined fortune of $120bn (£76bn), based on the Forbes 2009 list of the world's richest people.
The meeting was held on May 5, at the private residence of the president of Rockefeller University on New York's exclusive Upper East Side.
It is not known if the attendees discussed working together on a charitable basis, although all present have been involved in philanthropy in some shape or form.
Mr Gates has bestowed the majority of his $37bn fortune to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, while Mr Soros last week pledged $50m to the Robin Hood Foundation.