Last week, Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, regained the top spot in Bloomberg's Billionaire Index for the first time since 2007. Gates, the second leading philanthropist in the world after Warren Buffett, has a current worth of $72.7 billion and he is now the richest man in the planet, surpassing Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim.
Unlike Slim, though, Gates is not only known for his money, but also for his large-scale charitable work. Gates has donated nearly 40 percent of his fortune to the private foundation he runs with his wife Melinda, and he is the co-founder, alongside with Warren Buffett, of the Giving Pledge, a worldwide campaign that invites millionaires to donate at least half of their wealth to charity or philanthropic activities. Like Buffet, Gates has rallied North America's rich to give back to society, serving as an example through his work with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Thus far, 105 millionaires have signed the pledge.
In April, Gates and Buffett announced the addition of the first 12 non-U.S. signatories. The event marked a new global dimension for the campaign with new pledgers from the U.K., Russia, Australia, India, China, Germany, South Africa and the Ukraine. Carlos Slim, the world's second richest man, and other billionaires from Latin America were conspicuously absent.
"Latin America has come to the game much later," Michael D. Layton, a professor at the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (ITAM) and the director of its Project on Philanthropy and Civil Society, told Fusion. "The United States had a tremendous head-start, dating back to the 17th and 18th century, when the decentralization of power and the creation of associations opened the road for what Rockefeller and Carnegie would do in the 19th century."
Today, 100 Latin Americans have a net worth of over a billion dollars, according to Forbes' latest list. None of them, though, have engaged in practices that are comparable to those of Gates and Buffet. Latin America trails the rest of the world in terms of charitable organizations and philanthropic endeavors. Unfortunately, the region's recent economic success has not been attended by the massive donations that other countries have seen. And though there are promissory signs of change, deep-rooted cultural and financial reasons still seem to hold back Latin America's magnates.
Despite its deeply-rooted Catholic tradition, Latin America is one of the world's least generous regions. A 2007 special edition of the Capgemini and Merril Lynch's World Wealth Report found that only 3 percent of High Net Worth Individuals (HNWI) allocated money for philanthropy in their portfolios. On average, 11 percent of HNWI from the rest of the world's regions allocated at least 7 percent of their portfolios to philanthropic endeavors.
An often-cited study from the Johns Hopkins Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project that analyzed the giving practices of 36 countries reached a similar conclusion. According to the study, Latin America dedicates an average of 0.23 percent of GDP to philanthropy, a figure well below the rest of the world, which on average dedicates 0.38 percent of GDP. Mexico with an average of 0.4 percent came last in the list, far behind countries like Kenya, Poland, Pakistan, and India (the U.S. dedicates 1.85 percent).