Saudi business tycoon Alwaleed gives away $32b to charity

RIYADH: Saudi Arabian business tycoon Prince Alwaleed bin Talal on Wednesday pledged to donate his entire $32 billion fortune to philanthropy.

“With this pledge, I am honouring my life-long commitment to what matters most – helping to build a more peaceful, equitable and sustainable world for generations to come,” Alwaleed told reporters in Riyadh.

He added “It is a commitment without boundaries. A commitment to all mankind.”

We’re not talking about a small amount of change here. Alwaleed is thought to be the 20th-richest person in the world, according to Bloomberg, with a fortune of US$32.5 billion.

Alwaleed, a member of the Saudi royal family and nephew to late King Abdullah, has gained an international reputation for his business ventures and unusually open public comments. He founded Kingdom Holding, a Riyadh-based investment holding company, in 1980.

It became well known in the United States for investments in technology companies such as Twitter and Apple. He has also made personal investments in Islamic study centres around the world, including one at Georgetown University.

Educated in California, Alwaleed is US-influenced in his business thinking – he was involved in a feud with Forbesmagazine because he felt it underestimated his wealth. His decision to give away his fortune is inspired by a similar pledge by American billionaire Bill Gates.

His charity group, Alwaleed Philanthropies, has worked with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Carter Center, founded by former president Jimmy Carter.

“Philanthropy is a personal responsibility, which I embarked upon more than three decades ago and is an intrinsic part of my Islamic faith,” Alwaleed said on Wednesday, pledging to donate his entire wealth to Alwaleed Philanthropies for the purpose of “intercultural understanding, supporting needy communities, through health promotion, eradication of diseases, provision of electric power to remote villages and hamlets, building orphanages and schools, and much more, as well as providing disaster relief and empowering women, youth and poverty alleviation.”

In the past, some have suggested that Alwaleed’s emphasis on charity and women’s rights was a tactic designed to endear his business ventures to Westerners.

However, few deny that the Saudi prince has shown great generosity in the past, although sometimes in surprising ways: Earlier this year, Alwaleed tweeted that he would buy 100 Bentleys for 100 Saudi pilots who took part in the bombing campaign in neighbouring Yemen that targeted Shiite rebels. It’s unclear whether he followed through, however.