Categories: World

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

*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

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.

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.


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

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.

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

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

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. 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

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


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