Will Female Billionaires Save Us?

© Provided by Refinery29

Melanie Perkins has just made history.

As the CEO of Canva, she is one of the youngest female tech CEOs in the world and her company has just been valued at around $54.7 billion AUD (£29 billion).

But where Perkins’ story takes a twist is with what she and Cliff Obrecht, husband and cofounder, plan on doing with all that cash, revealing recently that they intend on giving the vast majority of her wealth away. “It has felt strange when people refer to us as “billionaires” as it has never felt like our money, we’ve always felt that we’re purely custodians of it,” Perkins wrote in a response to her company’s latest valuation.

“As we’ve previously shared, it’s long been our intention to give the wealth away, and we’ve been thinking long and hard about the best way to start that journey.

“So today, we are very pleased to share the news that Cliff and I will be committing the vast majority of our equity (30% of Canva) to do good in the world, and plan to do this through the Canva Foundation.”

“As Canva’s value grows, so too does our ability to have a positive impact on the world. And as we have a positive impact on the world, we believe that Canva will grow too by being able to attract and motivate the best team and our community who care about having a positive impact on the world too.”

Perkins’ news follows a similar pledge to that of Mackenzie Scott, the novelist and ex-wife of Amazon CEO and richest man in the world Jeff Bezos.

Declared the wealthiest woman in the world, according to Bloomberg’s Billionaire Index in 2019, Scott made a public pledge after divorce from Bezos to slowly give away all her fortune “until the safe is empty”. 

In a heartfelt promise to The Giving Pledge, Scott reflected on her choice to give most of her wealth away, “We each come by the gifts we have to offer by an infinite series of influences and lucky breaks we can never fully understand. In addition to whatever assets life has nurtured in me, I have a disproportionate amount of money to share.” 

She acknowledged that the exorbitant wealth she, and many other billionaires, possessed was not of her own making, “there’s no question in my mind that anyone’s personal wealth is the product of a collective effort, and of social structures which present opportunities to some people and obstacles to countless others”. 

In a post to the self-publishing platform Medium, she shared a breakdown of the areas where she had allocated the first round of donations across, as well as the amount that they have received thus far. 

Racial Equity: $586,700,000 USD

LGBTQ+ Equity: $46,000,000 USD

Gender Equity: $133,000,000 USD

Economic Mobility: $399,500,000 USD

Empathy & Bridging Divides: $55,000,000 USD

Functional Democracy: $72,000,000 USD

Public Health: $128,300,000 USD

Global Development: $130,000,000 USD

Climate Change: $125,000,000 USD

While the sum of her donations is difficult for us mere mortals to wrap our heads around, it actually only makes a small dent in her overall net worth, which still comes in at over $48 billion AUD (£25 billion). But as she’s attested, Scott is nowhere near done with her philanthropic ventures. She does, however, not take the enormity of these donations lightly.

Women are also likely to contribute in other ways, such as providing their own testimony by engaging in advocacy and leveraging their social networks on behalf of these causes

When working with inconceivable amounts of wealth, it’s safe to say that copious research and learning has to be endeavoured to ensure that these funds are going where they can make a meaningful difference, something that Scott seems to understand as she states, “My approach to philanthropy will continue to be thoughtful. It will take time and effort and care”.

Scott is among nearly a dozen single female billionaires who have signed the Giving Pledge, a commitment to give more than half of their fortune to charity during their lifetime. Others include Spanx founder Sara Blakely and Judith Faulkner, a software entrepreneur.

In China, the landscaping entrepreneur He Qiaonü pledged $1.5 billion (£795,000) for biodiversity conservation in 2017. That marked the biggest donation ever made for an environmental cause in any country at that point. While in Japan, the country’s first self-made woman billionaire, Yoshiko Shinohara, recently retired to concentrate on philanthropy by funding scholarships for aspiring nurses, social workers or daycare staff.

But in a time when it feels like the world is ending and billionaires are just getting richer, it does beg questions about billionaires and the sheer absurdity of their existence. This is why the idea of ‘wealth hoarding’ has been a focus of conversations as of late, particularly after a pandemic that has only highlighted glaring wealth divides.

Wealth hoarding is pretty simple. It comes from the idea that billionaires hold on to their money while continuing to accumulate more than they could possibly spend in their lifetime. And while the pandemic saw most of us dipping into our savings and government financial aid services collapsing in on themselves, 2020 saw billionaires get $565 billion (£299 billion) richer — almost 90% of which are men by the way.

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So why do things get more complicated when they’re female?

Recently, singer and Fenty mogul Rihanna caused a stir when Forbes revealed her net worth to be $2.3 billion AUD (£1.21 billion), making her the richest female musician in the world and leaving fans divided on whether or not the milestone was a good thing. On the one hand, billionaires are kind of a burden on the world. But what about the strides? With Fenty Beauty, Rihanna has irreversibly changed the beauty industry for the better, setting a standard for all brands to be more inclusive in their approaches. But beyond how she’s accumulated her wealth, she’s also made strides to give back. As it stands, the Clara Lionel Foundation, set up by Rihanna in 2012, has raised over $80 million (£58 million) in charitable funds for over 150 organisations in 20 countries across the world, on top of a host of other charitable ventures that have seen millions donated to domestic violence survivors and small businesses.

And it seems that there might be something in women just generally being more inclined to share their wealth.

As research has shown, women actually do tend to give more. One study that looked at charitable habits across singles found that 51% of single women indicated they would give to charity, compared with 41% of single men. Women are also more likely than men to give to charity as their income rises.

And substantial wealth seldom comes into the matter. Studies have shown that during crises and otherwise, women appear especially likely to give, whether that’s by volunteering their time and skills or donating money to support causes. Women are also likely to contribute in other ways, such as providing their own testimony by engaging in advocacy and leveraging their social networks on behalf of these causes, as well as being more active among giving circles.

Giving circles are groups in which donors pool and decide together how to allocate money to various charitable causes, a phenomenon that has boomed in recent years. Within the U.S. alone, more than half, 56%, of these giving circles have only female members.

With so many strides made in closing the gender pay gap, it appears that as women have begun to make more money — still less than men — they only become more generous

With the world collapsing in on itself in the past year, we’ve observed a sharp rise in charitable donations, with $25 billion (£18 billion) donated in 2020, up from $16 billion (£11.5 billion) in 2019. And though the top donor was Jeff Bezos, the bigger picture shows just what too much money looks like.

Of his £146.1 billion net worth, Bezos pledged to donate £7.24 billion last year. Nothing to scoff at, sure. That said, he also spent $5.5 billion to go to space for a grand total of four minutes and shelled out $500 million (£362 million) on a single 417-foot superyacht. A busy year. Not to mention when you factor in the amount of exploitation involved in generating his wealth, as eloquently pointed out by his ex-wife, these sums just don’t stack up. As blogger Emily Enriquez Livingston points out, it would cost $20 billion (£14.5 billion) to end homelessness in the U.S. — around 7% of Bezos’ fortune. To put that into perspective, I spent about 7% of my weekly take-home pay on a bouquet of flowers for a friend’s birthday.

Between space travel, NFTs and handbag collections running in the millions of dollars, there’s a lot of meaningless causes for billionaires to throw their money at in this day and age. Ultimately, wealth hoarding seems part and parcel with all billionaires of the world, and humans should not be able to possess more money than they are capable of spending. But with today’s female billionaires putting their money where their mouth is, we can’t say that it doesn’t instil a little bit of hope. All we can do is put our votes to those who believe in taxing the wealthy appropriately, hold even our favourite celebrities accountable, and champion the female billionaires of the world to keep fighting the good fight.

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