Wealth For Health: The Biggest Billionaires Giving Generously During COVID-19 

The world’s most notable names and companies donate big bucks in light of the current pandemic.
Sunday 31 January 2021
Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-Shing is one of many generous billionaires contributing to fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: AFP

*This article was first published in April 2020

The world might be running out of face masks and hand sanitisers but there seems to be no shortage of funds and generosity from the world’s billionaires wanting to donate to the plight of those suffering from COVID-19. Some have donated much-needed cash to frontliners while others have contributed face masks, to researching vaccines or building new hospital wings to accommodate those in need. Here are some of the benevolent who tried to do their part during these trying times.

Tan Sri Shahril Shamsuddin and Datuk Shahriman Shamsuddin

President and Group CEO of Sapura Energy, Tan Sri Shahril Shamsuddin and his younger brother Datuk Shahriman Shamsuddin who runs the Sapura Group’s aviation, auto parts and property business, have collectively donated RM1 million in support of the COVID-19 crisis. The Edge Covid-19 Equipment Fund received RM750,000 while The Edge Covid-19 Health Workers Support Fund received RM250,000 thanks to their generosity.

Perdana ParkCity Sdn Bhd

Regional property development and investment company Perdana ParkCity Sdn Bhd, gave RM1 million to The Edge COVID-19 fund. Said their Group Chief Executive Officer Datuk Joseph Lau, “It is heart-warming to see Corporate Malaysia coming together to contribute. Our prayers and utmost gratitude are with the frontline and with each and every one who has come forth to assist.”

Westports Holdings Bhd, Taliworks Corp Bhd

Westports Holdings Bhd, which manages port operations for container and conventional cargo and provides port services, donated RM1 million to The Edge COVID-19 fund.

Taliworks Corp Bhd, a pure-play infrastructure company dealing with water treatment, waste management, highway toll operations and engineering and construction, also gave RM1 million to the fund.

Li Ka-Shing

Hong Kong is another country that has been hit hard, not only by COVID-19 but also by their ongoing protests. According to Forbes, Asia’s most influential investor donated US$13 million in February to help Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak. The Li Ka Shing Foundation has distributed 250,000 face masks to 13 social welfare organizations and homes for the elderly in Hong Kong while their website mentions that it is working to source Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) from all over the world in hope of providing additional support to Hong Kong’s frontline healthcare teams.

Jack Ma

jack ma afp - billionaires,COVID-19

Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma. Photo: AFP

Jack Ma has been vocal and openly supportive of the fight against COVID-19. The Alibaba co-founder has pledged US$14 million to help develop a COVID-19 vaccine. On 13 March he announced he would be donating 500,000 testing kits and 1 million face masks to the US and sent medical supplies and tests to Italy, as well as essential medical supplies to seven more countries – Azerbaijan, Bhutan, INdia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam. Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines too, have received medical supplies donated by the Jack Ma Foundation and Alibaba Foundation.

Both foundations also recently established the Global MediXchange for Combating COVID-19 to help doctors across the world share best practices during the pandemic. States the official website, “This center offers overseas Chinese compatriots with COVID-19 prevention and treatment consultation from frontline doctors, and supports medical scientific research institutions with AI, big data, and cloud computing capabilities.”

Giorgio Armani

The fashion designer not only showcased his recent show behind closed doors on 23 February with live streaming options, the Armani Group has donated about €2 million to several hospitals in Milan and Tuscany, to the Lazzaro Spallanzani National Institute for Infectious Disease in Rome and to the Italian civil protection agency. The group also converted all four of its productions sites in Italy to manufacture single-use medical overalls for healthcare providers fighting COVID-19.

Versace, Fendi, Gucci

Other designers have also shown their support and dug deep to donate. Donatella Versace and her daughter Allegra donated €200,000 to Milan’s San Raffaele Hospital while the Carla Fendi Foundation, the philanthropy institution of the president of Fendi, has given €100,000 to Rome’s Presidio Sanitario Columbus Hospital.

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With a view to providing a lasting response to the current pandemic, @kering_official, which includes Gucci, contributes to the fight against Covid-19. In the days ahead, the Group will provide the French health service with surgical masks and its preparing to manufacture new ones—while complying with the strictest health protection measures for its staff members—and made a financial donation to the Institut Pasteur to support its research into Covid-19. This contribution follows those already made in China and Italy in recent weeks. On March 11 in Italy, Kering and its Houses made donations to the four major foundation hospitals in Lombardy, Veneto, Tuscany and Lazio. More recently, Gucci responded to a call to fashion companies from the Tuscany Region for surgical masks and medical overalls, and aims to donate to 1.1 million surgical masks and 55.000 medical overalls in the coming weeks, subject to relevant authorizations. On January 28 in China, Kering and its Houses announced a donation to the Hubei Red Cross Foundation to help fight the spread of the virus.

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In true altruism, Gucci donated €1 million to Italy’s National Civil Protection Department to support health services and the creation of new intensive care beds, plus another €1 million to the United Nations Foundation’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund. Even Marco Bizzarri, CEO of the company himself, contributed €1100,000.


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#LVMHjoinsforces Given the risk of a shortage of hydroalcoholic gel in France, Bernard Arnault instructed the LVMH Perfumes & Cosmetics business to manufacture within their production sites as much gel as needed to support the public authorities. Since Monday, the gel has been delivered free of charge daily to the French health authorities and as a priority to the Assistance Publique-Hôpitaux de Paris. The LVMH Group would like to express a special THANK YOU to all those who made it possible, in particular to our exceptional production teams from @guerlain, @diorparfums and @givenchybeauty who have shown great solidarity and engagement in a spirit of collective effort for the common good. The Group and its Maisons are extremely proud and humbled to do their part in the fight against COVID-19 and to help those whose mission is to protect and care for others. As such, we will continue to honour this commitment for as long as necessary, in connection with the French health authorities. #Coronavirus #COVID19 #APHP #staysafe #StayAtHome #COVID2019france #LVMH #LVMHtalents #Guerlain #ParfumsChristianDior #DiorParfums #Dior #GivenchyBeauty #Givenchy

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Instead of making everyone smell amazing, LVMH is dedicated to cleaning the hands of those in France and the rest of Europe instead. It announced it was converting three of its perfume factories into manufacturing hand sanitiser to be distributed free to French health authorities in a bid to combat the shortage. It also committed to supplying 40 million masks from China to France.

Silvio Berlusconi, Agnelli family

The three-time prime minister of Italy and current member of the European Parliament gave US$10.7 million (€10 million) to the region of Lombardy, destined for the new hospital that will be built in the former Fiera Milano exhibition grounds in Milan.

The Agnelli family, who runs the Fiat Chrysler group and football club Juventus, pledged €10 million euros to help support the Italian national health service in Turin and the Piedmont region. Their family holding company Exor, purchased 150 artificial respirators for Italian hospitals.

Patrizio Bertelli, Miuccia Prada

In mid-March, the co-CEOs of fashion titan Prada announced in a short statement on their website that they had donated two intensive care and resuscitation units each to Milan’s Vittore Buzzi, Sacco and San Raffaele hospitals.

Jeff Bezos

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Good call with @WHO Director-General @DrTedros today on the global response to #COVID19 and the ways @Amazon and @AmazonWebServices are helping their efforts. Our current work with WHO includes: increasing capacity and security for the WHO website; providing ML & AI for WHO’s Epidemic Intelligence from Open Sources initiative; assisting with the translation and transcription of WHO’s knowledge catalogue; providing logistics support. We also discussed the urgent need for collective action to produce and distribute plentiful COVID-19 test kits. A surplus of fast, effective, easy-to-access test kits would flatten the curve and protect people around the world. I told Dr. Tedros we will continue to help WHO in every way we can in the coming weeks and months.

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The richest man in the world with a net worth of US$120 billion has enlisted his company Amazon to help WHO (World Health Organisation) in the fight against the pandemic. He is looking at the possibility of Amazon distributing test kits, with the initiative starting in the UK’s healthcare workers before widening the network to the general public. Bezos wrote in a statement, “Our current work with WHO includes: increasing capacity and security for the WHO website; providing ML [machine learning] and AI for WHO’s Epidemic Intelligence from Open Sources initiative; assisting with the translation and transcription of WHO’s knowledge catalogue; providing logistics support.”

According to Forbes, Amazon has also donated US$1 million to emergency COVID-19 funds in the Washington D.C. region, created a US$5 million relief fund for small businesses and contributed US$1 million to a new Seattle foundation to help those affected by COVID-19.

On 2 April, Bezos posted an update on his Instagram to declare that he is gifting Feeding America US$100 million to support those on the front lines of the US’ food banks and those who in need of food. The funds will be distributed to Feeding America’s national network of food banks and food pantries, getting food to those countless families who need it.⁣ Food banks have been relying on food donations from restaurants and at a time where they are now ordered to close or reduce their services, families and individuals who would have gone hungry now will be able to turn to food banks for support.

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Even in ordinary times, food insecurity in American households is an important problem, and unfortunately COVID-19 is amplifying that stress significantly. Non-profit food banks and food pantries rely in large part on surplus food from a range of food businesses. For example, many restaurants donate excess food. But during this time of social distancing, restaurants are closed, and many other normal channels of excess food have also shut down. To make matters worse, as supply is dwindling, demand for food bank services is going up.⁣ ⁣ Today, I want to support those on the front lines at our nation’s food banks and those who are relying on them for food with a $100 million gift to @FeedingAmerica. Feeding America will quickly distribute the funds to their national network of food banks and food pantries, getting food to those countless families who need it.⁣ ⁣ Feeding America is the largest non-profit focused on food security. Millions of Americans are turning to food banks during this time. If you want to help, the link to Feeding America is in my bio. They’d be excited and grateful for donations of any size.

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Michael Bloomberg

The media billionaire’s Bloomberg Philanthropies has partnered with WHO and global health organisation Vital Strategies to launch a US$40 million initiative to prevent or slow the spread of COVID-19 in low- and middle-income countries, especially in Africa. In the US, the foundation together with the National League of Cities launched a Local Action Tracker to collect and share actions taken by US leaders in response to COVID-19.

Bloomberg Philanthropies’ website states that it also “joined with more than twenty other philanthropic funders to launch the NYC COVID-19 Response & Impact Fund to support New York City-based small and mid-size social services and arts and cultural non-profit organisations that have been affected by the current coronavirus crisis. The new fund – which currently has over US$78 million – will provide grants and interest-free loans to help these organisations respond to emerging needs, cover losses associated with the disruption of their operations, and help them continue their critical work.”

“Millions of lives depend on getting the coronavirus response right – and so does the economic and social health of communities around the world. We need to slow transmission of the virus and minimise the impact of the outbreak in all countries,” Bloomberg said in a statement.

Michael Dell

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Stay safe my friends

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Known for his philanthropic ways, Michael Dell has donated US$284,000 to provide medical supplies such as surgical masks to hospitals in China and US$853,000 worth of IT services to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Hubei province. Worldwide, the Dell company has also set aside US$3 million in funds and in-kind technology donations to help COVID-19 efforts and agreed to match employee donations to the CDC Foundation’s Emergency Response Fund, up to US$10,000 per employee. “We are all in this together. Be safe and take care of each other,” he recently tweeted.

Bill Gates

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation launched the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator, a partnership with Wellcome, a health research nonprofit, and Mastercard that hopes to develop and make widely available COVID-19 medications. Supported by US$125 million, both from new funding and money already set aside to target the coronavirus outbreak, the accelerator will assist long term in finding an effective treatment to those in urgent need and aid their recovery. Another fund set up by the foundation is the Combating COVID-19 Fund, which uses diagnostic tools to identify cases and stop the spread, assist in finding a vaccine, identify and develop new treatments and help communities around the world and their healthcare systems battle the pandemic.

The foundation has already announced that they are funding a new project that could soon deliver at-home COVID-19 test kits to people in Seattle but details have yet to be finalised.

Mark Zuckerberg

The Facebook co-founder certainly is a generous one, doing a lot to help where he can when it comes to COVID-19. His Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is working with UC San Francisco and Stanford University to quadruple the Bay Area’s testing and diagnostics capacity — including purchasing two FDA-approved diagnostic machines.

On 17 March, Facebook announced a US$100 million grant to aid small businesses impacted by COVID-19 and has also committed to match US$20 million in donations to the United Nations Foundation, WHO and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Following that, on 21 March, Zuckerberg announced that Facebook would donate its emergency reserve of 720,000 masks to health workers — purchased in the event that the California wildfires continued — and would work to source millions more to donate.

The 35-year-old also updated on his Facebook status that he and his wife Priscilla were committing US$10 million to the CDC Foundation’s Combat Coronavirus Fundraiser where all funds will go to fighting the outbreak, including sourcing medical supplies and increasing lab capacity.

On 27 March, he announced his committment of US$25 million to accelerate the development of treatments for COVID-19, partnering with others including the Gates Foundation, to quickly evaluate the most promising existing drugs to see which ones might be effective at preventing and treating the coronavirus.

Most recently, as part of Facebook’s efforts to support the news ecosystem and “ensure everyone has access to accurate and timely information”, the entrepreuner who is worth US$55.1 billion, announced on 30 March that he is investing US$100 million in new funds to support journalists. The new emergency program is in addition to the US$300 million they had committed earlier to supporting news, and local news in particular, over the next few years.

Remo Ruffini

The chairman and CEO of luxury sportswear brand Moncler contributed US$10.9 million to the authorities in the hard-hit region of Lombardy, Italy, for the construction of a new hospital which will house over 400 intensive care units.. The new facility will be located in an area formerly home to the Fiera Milano exhibition center. “Milan is a city that has given us all an extraordinary time. We cannot and must not abandon it. It is everyone’s duty to give back to the city what it has given us so far,” Ruffini said in a statement. The Financial Times, Moncler reported that Moncler is the second most profitable fashion brand after Hermes in terms of operating profit, based on full year results.

Sheryl Sandberg

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My thoughts and sympathies are with all those whose lives have been affected by COVID-19, especially those who have lost loved ones. I always think about the doctors, nurses and other medical professionals at times like these too. The outbreak is putting a huge strain on them – and their families – all over the world. I come from a family of doctors – my dad is a doctor and so are my brother and sister – so I know first-hand the huge pressures they face, the selflessness of their work, and the deep sense of duty they feel, especially during crises. When you grow up with a doctor as a parent, you also know the concern that comes with having a loved one who can be exposed to risk while helping others. That’s why I wanted to share two quick stories – about how medical professionals are looking out for each other, and how people are showing their appreciation for them. There is a fantastic group on Facebook called @show_me_your_stethoscope – a community of nurses that has grown to more than 600,000 members over the last five years. Their motto is “nurses take care of patients, we take care of nurses.” I first learned about them in 2017. During the COVID-19 outbreak, they are posting in the group to keep each other up to date on the facts, share tips on hygiene and how to best educate their communities, and provide each other with love and support as they prepare to be on the frontlines of the response as the situation escalates. Last month, a group in Singapore called @standupforsg found a way to show their appreciation for the medical professionals dealing with the outbreak by writing handwritten messages of thanks and encouragement and posting pictures of them on Facebook with the hashtag #braveheartsg. In a matter of days there were hundreds of messages and they were being publicly praised by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. They have passed these messages and other things, from candy bars to thousands of boxes of hand sanitizers, directly to medical staff in Singapore. To all the doctors, nurses and others on the frontline of this emergency – thank you. We are so grateful for everything you are doing.

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Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer and her fiancé Tom Bernthal contributed US$1 million for an emergency food bank for the San Francisco Bay Area and partnered with other tech billionaires including LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman, Workday’s Aneel Bhusri and Intuit’s Scott Cook for an additional US$6 million. About US$200,000 in donations were raised via a Facebook fundraiser as well.

Patrice Motsepe

patrice motsepe afp - billionaires,COVID-19

Patrice Motsepe. Photo: AFP

South Africa’s billionaire founder and chairman of African Rainbow Minerals will donate US$57 million to help the pandemic that has forced his home country into lockdown. The money will be channelled through the government to build water, health and education facilities.

This donation is in addition to the US$57 million each pledged by two of South Africa’s richest families, the Oppenheimers and the Ruperts, to help support small businesses and save jobs.

Richard Branson

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My response to the global crisis #LinkInBio

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The airline mogul received criticism for asking staff at his Virgin Atlantic airline to take eight weeks of unpaid leave but announced later on 22 March that Virgin Atlantic would set aside US$250 million to support his over 70,000 employees across 35 countries. This news comes after Branson launched a new luxury cruise line Virgin Voyagers. Sail with caution, we say. We all know what happened to cuise ships like the Diamond Princess, Zaandam and Ruby Princess and its passengers.

Source: The Edge, Forbes, CNA, South China Morning Post, Business Insider, The Jakarta Post