Keeping Up with Frank

It's time for billionaires to stop worrying about their fortunes and start worrying about the world

April 22, 2020

Who wants to be a billionaire? Not me.

I'm lucky to be well off, and I believe in free enterprise. But I have come to the conclusion that capitalism has run amok.

In 2017, the US households in the top 1% of income-earners made more than 25 times what families in the other 99% did, according to a paper from the Economic Policy Institute. This glaring inequality confirmed my determination to devote the rest of my life and greatest part of my wealth to philanthropy. 

If further urgency was needed, the novel coronavirus pandemic makes my decision even clearer. This moment underscores the pointlessness of accumulating extreme wealth.

Instead, this is a time for bold generosity. Now is not the time to worry about your stocks, when others with much less, from health workers to supermarket employees are putting themselves at risk on the frontline. 

Indeed, the consequences of this global pandemic, are likely to be devastating for the most vulnerable.

Even beyond the immediate healthcare needs in some of the hardest hit countries, the coronavirus outbreak is adding another complication for people in precarious positions around the world.

Think of people caught in the midst of conflict. The refugees or internally displaced – the number of which are now higher than at any time since World War II – gathered in overcrowded, under-resourced camps. Think of those relying on humanitarian workers whose access to conflict zones will be dramatically curtailed. And those who count on peacekeeping missions to keep warring sides apart and now will also see their ability to operate affected.

And, of course, think of all those conflict victims whose fate is known to us only because the media and various NGOs shine a spotlight on them and who will now be ignored or forgotten.

Overall, the coronavirus threatens to diminish global attention to conflict situations at the time they most need it. It could fuel skepticism about the urgency of helping others far from home and further deplete faith, already in short supply, in the very possibility of preventing or ending war.

That's why, in addition to my contributions to efforts to reduce inequality, counter suffering and alleviate poverty through Acceso, a social enterprise that I co-founded, I am also determined to help those trying to prevent and resolve deadly conflict.

I have come to believe it's the biggest possible return on investment: in many parts of the world, often unseen because it's not glamorous or sensational, early, upstream action can be taken to stop fighting and end wars, without which none of the other steps will really matter.

With this urgency in mind, I recently stepped down from the chairman's role at the gold mining company I co-founded to become co-chair of the International Crisis Group, an organization dedicated to ending wars and stopping new ones before they start.

I have tremendous respect for ICG's work, having spent 15 years as a board member. The nuclear deal between Iran and world powers; the 2016 peace accord with FARC rebels in Colombia; the successful prevention of a Saudi-led coalition offensive on the port of Hodeida, vital for UN humanitarian supplies in Yemen – Crisis Group played an important role in all of these. 

Important as it is, helping war's victims still puts the cart before the horse. We can think bigger: pressure and help decision-makers prevent wars from starting, end wars before they spread and, when all else fails, mitigate the severity of war, saving as many lives as possible. A political settlement, however imperfect, can head off the need for humanitarian aid in the first place.

It's hard work and at times, it feels thankless, but I believe practical solutions to resolve or mitigate deadly conflicts do exist. Even if they are not always visible to the stakeholders. We have proven it time and time again.

Don't get me wrong. I live a very comfortable life, and I will continue to invest in business opportunities alongside my charitable giving. But enough is enough. I don't want to be a billionaire. It feels much more important to use what I have to help build a better and more peaceful world.

The world is in a moment of crisis. How we all conduct ourselves will make the world of difference to the level of suffering to many around us and even the quality of our own lives. I hope other millionaire and billionaire friends will agree and rise to the moment.


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