Fri, 27 Nov 2020

Most of us have seen a movie, a play or even a cartoon of Charles Dickens �A Christmas Carol'. From those lavish, Hollywood musicals and comedies to silver screen, celluloid classics, there have been forty nine films since Charles Dickens first wrote his novella back in 1843.

Who can forget the scene, when the infamous miser Ebenezer Scrooge, was approached by two businessmen wanting charity for the poor. �Are there no prisons?� asks Scrooge, �and the Union workhouses, are they still in operation?�. The collectors leave empty-handed. But by the time the old skinflint meets the ghost of Christmas Present, the shoe is on the other foot.

Having been shocked by the sight of a boy and girl �yellow, meagre, ragged� their features� stale and shriveled� pinched and twisted�, Scrooge asks who they are, and to whom do they belong. The Spirit replies in a damning sentence, which still sets the moral compass for today's society.

Christmas Present retorts that the children belong to Mankind. �This boy is Ignorance. This girl is want. Beware them both. But most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom!�, he warns.

Charles Dickens, successful author and social reformer, understood the link between ignorance and poverty. Society must take care of its poor physically, and above all, must pull them out of poverty through education.

Dickens �took an intense interest in education and particularly in those charities and institutions that catered for pauper children�. Indeed to Dickens, education had the potential to rescue working class children from the ravages of industrialization and from the dangers that lurked in the sprawling city. Nearly 200 years later, governments around the globe have received the message loud and clear.

However, it's not just government institutions which attempt to alleviate poverty and provide education for all. Like Dickens himself, other successful, charitable givers donate billions of dollars worldwide, in the knowledge that education will alleviate poverty.

And they don't come from one particular industry either. Today's philanthropists come from the realms of sport, show business, high-tech, corporate enterprise and more. These generous individuals share in common the belief that, as Benjamin Franklin once said, �An investment in knowledge pays the best interest�.

Take LeBron James, America's recently-crowned NBA champion. The Los Angeles Lakers superstar is recognized worldwide for his philanthropy off the court. Throughout his 17-year pro-career, LeBron is set to make $92.4 million in this season alone from his salary plus endorsements.

�James particularly feels the plight of underprivileged children, since he came from humble beginnings himself in his home town of Akron, Ohio. Lebron was raised by his single mother Gloria and moved from apartment to apartment. Gloria often had to juggle multiple jobs to make ends meet� writes Kriel Ibarrola, highlighting the NBA champion's staunch support of children's rights and youth education.

James gave $2.5 million of his TV special a decade ago to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. He's also been a supporter and contributor to After-School's All-Stars in LA and Ohio. The charity provides out-of-school programs for 8,000 students from low income schools.

His biggest contribution is the �I Promise School� in Ohio, which guides at-risk children through the help of his family foundation.

�Every 25 seconds, a kid dropped out of high school� LeBron James said. �For me to be able to use my power to shed light on the situation and be able to improve it was a no-brainer!�. Last year his foundation pledged $41.8 million in educational scholarships.

Steve Schwartzman is one of the country and the world's richest men. Estimates have his worth at between $17 billion and $18 billion. Steve is the boss of private equity firm, the Blackstone Group. He also puts education top of his priorities, giving away $100 million to the New York Public Library and a further hundred million dollars to Schwartzman Scholars. Last year he gave �150 million to Oxford University in the UK and set up an international student's program a 21st-century Rhodes Scholarship, Schwartzman Scholars, based in Beijing.

In all Schwartzman has given around $1 billion to good causes. When asked about his motives for his philanthropy, he replied that he didn't look at it at the same way as others might. �I look at interesting issues that I think are important for society. It's a bit like being an entrepreneur. Addressing a problem, in effect of your own choosing, and then spending years getting the thing done�. At MIT in Massachusetts, he was investigating US competitiveness in Artificial Intelligence. This has led to the creation of the new Schwartzman College of Computing.

Life experience often governs the choice of charities; and many philanthropists with difficult backgrounds often choose charities that alleviate these problems for others.

JK Rowling's life is a classic rags to riches story. Her parents did not receive a college education, and she lived for many years on government assistance as a single mother. But she persevered to become one of the most successful and widely read authors in the history of the world. After nearly 20 years of writing Harry Potter stories, Rowling's boy wizard has morphed into an entertainment franchise including books, movies and play, theme park, toys and more.

Her own mantra was never to give up and to face rebuffs �head-on'. She suffered a dozen or more rejections from publishers before the Harry Potter books were taken up-and she's been a success ever since. �I was convinced that the only thing I wanted to do, ever, was to write novels,� she said. In 2004 Forbes reported that JK Rowling was the first person to become a billionaire by writing books. In fact she was later to drop off the list because she gave so much money to charity. According to Business Insider, JK Rowling's net worth is estimated to range from between $650 million to $1.2 billion.

Spending a day a week doing what she called �charity stuff�, the author supported Comic Relief, a global anti-poverty charity, and she became the president of Gingerbread which supports single parents. �I was a Single Parent, and a Single Parent on Benefits to boot� she wrote �I would say to any single parent currently feeling the weight of stereotype or stigmatization that I am prouder of my years as a single mother than of any other part of my life�.

She's also donated millions of dollars to research into Multiple Sclerosis, a disease which her mother suffered from and eventually died. Rowling is known for her centre-left political views, supporting the U.K.'s Labour Party although not its former leader Jeremy Corbyn and is a vocal supporter of Israel.

Other charities include donations to the Campaign to Stay, when Scotland took a referendum on leaving the UK. She also donated $1.3 million to the campaign against Brexit.

Not all charity donors enjoy the glare of publicity. For example Bill Erbey, successful entrepreneur and philanthropist, is one of those people for whom the enjoyment of giving is far greater than the knowledge that other people know.

Erbey founded six multibillion-dollar public companies-two of which were listed in Fortune magazine as the eighth and sixth fastest growing companies in 2014.

Aside from his angel-investing in the tech space, content delivery, electronic motors and medical devices, Erbey is active in philanthropy, specifically in the education space. Together with his wife Elaine, the couple have donated significant amounts to institutions of higher learning.

Bill and Elaine fundamentally believe that education is the primary driver to enhancing people's standard of living. And Bill believes with the cost of college education rising faster than salaries, student debt is becoming untenable. Plus it's forcing a large proportion of the middle-class population out of college education completely.

�It can only get worse. The population of college-aged individuals will begin to decline over the next several years, placing an even greater strain on the high fixed-cost budgets of colleges and universities. I can think of a number of potential solutions, that's why I invested in Scholarly�.

Together with his wife Elaine - an academic herself being on the Board of Trustees of Boston University - they set up a technological solution to disseminate high quality education, creating a substantial, positive impact globally. �We help students locate the right colleges and courses to pursue their aspirations, utilising broadcasting capability to deliver live online education�. The Erbey's significant investment in the Scholarly.co project shows the importance they place on it. Judging by its success so far, boosted by the COVID19 pandemic, other people in the sector are sitting up, taking note and now doing the same.

A great example of personal history providing an impetus for the direction of philanthropy comes from Oprah Winfrey, whose net worth was estimated last month to be around $2.5 billion. She was born in poverty, in rural Mississippi to a teenage single mother and raised in inner-city Milwaukee.

Having been molested during her childhood and early teens, Oprah became pregnant at just 14-her son was born prematurely and died in infancy. But she was tenacious and managed to land herself a job in radio while still at high school. By nineteen she became co-anchor of the local evening news, and the rest as they say is history.

In the mid-1990s she reinvented her TV show, focusing on literature, self-improvement, mindfulness and spirituality, and endorsed Barack Obama for the presidential race in 2008. The winner of 18 daytime Emmy awards, two prime-time Emmys and the Bob Hope humanitarian award she has also won a Tony.

Her charitable giving was even more spectacular than her career. In 1998 she created Oprah's Angel Network, a charity that supported projects and provided grants for non-profit organizations around the world. The network raised more than $80 million which Winfrey added to by covering all administrative costs. Thus one hundred percent of funds raised went to the charity programs.

This year Facebook and Instagram celebrated the Class of 2020, with a live streaming graduation event. During her opening address Winfrey called for all graduating students �to lead us�. A passionate supporter of education she said �I wish I could tell you the path forward I don't. There's always uncertainty. I urge you to be at peace with the discomfort and step into the unknown!�.

We've looked at philanthropists from all walks of life and from all backgrounds. But they all place education as one of their primary charitable goals. For Charles Dickens, a good education was a bulwark against ignorance, cyclical poverty and crime. Some things don't change. What is changing is that more people recognize this and put their money where their mouth is.

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