What can a billion dollars buy you? How about a holiday to space with 4,000 friends? You might want to buy the White House — twice over — or eat 4 billion Freddos. 

But you could think even bigger: you could make history and play a role in ending one of the world’s greatest injustices. If you were a billionaire, you could be one of the most powerful forces for good in the fight to end extreme poverty. Would you decide to do your bit?

Global Citizen has just launched a new initiative called Give While You Live: a callout to the world’s 2,150 billionaires to donate 5% of their wealth every year to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — a set of 17 objectives designed to end extreme poverty and beat the climate crisis by 2030. 

It was launched alongside a new list compiled by Forbes in partnership with Global Citizen that highlights the top 25 philanthropists in the United States from 2014-2018, ranking billionaires by their donations that had actually reached the hands of beneficiaries.

"People like Bill Gates, people like Warren Buffett, have shown us with philanthropy, people can make phenomenal impact,” Global Citizen Ambassador Priyanka Chopra Jonas said at the campaign launch in Davos on Jan. 21. “People like that can make phenomenal impact when they just take a little bit out of their immense wealth and help us make that difference."

We all know that billionaires are rich. But how rich exactly? And how does that compare to the world’s poorest people — where we’re not just talking about extreme poverty, but also extreme global inequality?

Most importantly, how far can those at the top bridge that gap to support those at the bottom? Here’s a few facts for you to pin on your fridge.

1. There are 2,150 billionaires — worth a combined $10 trillion.

That’s just under half of the total gross domestic product (GDP) of the United States — the richest and perhaps most powerful state to exist in human history.

Yet the poorest 59 countries in the world have an annual funding gap of $350 billion to achieve the SDGs — a vacuum that means many people don’t have access to health systems, a quality education, or enough food and water to thrive. 

It’s a problem that means poverty becomes an inescapable cycle passed through generations. But the world’s billionaires could cover this annual cost 30 times over.


2. Their wealth is greater than that of 60% of the world’s population.

Those 2,150 billionaires possess more wealth than the world’s poorest 4.6 billion people, according to anti-poverty charity Oxfam’s “Time to Care”report

The findings show that the richest 1% of people have twice the riches of 6.9 billion people — in other words, almost every other person on the planet. 

Oxfam reports that if you had saved $10,000 every day since the first pyramids were built in Ancient Egypt, you would still only have a fifth of the average fortune of the world's five richest billionaires.


3. The world’s most philanthropic billionaires are incredible examples to follow.

One of the world’s most famous investors is also one of the most charitable: the ukulele-playing Warren Buffett has a net worth of $90 billion — and has given away stocks worth over a third of that. In 2006, Buffett pledged he would work towards giving away 85% of it. And he still uses a Nokia flip-phone.

The power couple who run the world’s biggest charitable foundation come a close second: according to Forbes, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has assets worth $46.8 billion and gives away $4 billion every year to projects that support the world’s most vulnerable communities. 

But according to author Gabriel Zucman, there’s work to do. Zucman broke down Forbes’ wealth and giving indexes from 2018 on Twitter last November, finding that the world’s top 20 billionaires gave away just under 1% of their wealth. However, without Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, the average is 0.3%.

But Gates and Buffett aren’t alone in the elite of global givers. Former billionaire Chuck Feeney once told Forbes he wanted to “die broke” after giving all his money away.

The Duty Free Shoppers founder, described by Buffett as a “hero”, is shutting down his foundation this year having seen it invest $8 billion to causes like education and health. 

Bill Gates even credits Feeney as a major inspiration for the Gates Foundation. "Chuck Feeney is a remarkable role model and the ultimate example of giving while living," he told Forbes.

4. The world’s richest person makes $2,489 a second.

Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos makes twice as much money every second as the median US worker makes in a week, according to Business Insider.

He’s worth $117 billion — greater than the GDP of Iceland, Afghanistan, and Costa Rica combined and 28% more than the British monarchy —  making about $149,353 a minute, more than triple what a US employee might make in a year.

All that means you would only need three of him to meet the annual funding gap to end extreme poverty. 


5. The richest 22 men in the world have more wealth than all the women in Africa.

The problem with extreme inequality isn’t merely economic. It’s also dangerously gendered: worldwide, men own 50% more wealth than women, according to Oxfam.

Indeed, the Oxfam report further reveals that the monetary value of all unpaid care work done by women over the age of 15 is $10.8 trillion a year — just over the total worth of the world’s billionaires. 

Yet women tend to give more generously than men — a 2018 U.S. Trust study found that 93% of high net worth women give to charity in contrast to 87% of men. Likewise, 56% of those women volunteer, while just 41% of men do the same. Some scientific research suggests it’s because female brains find charity to be more rewarding. Imagine the difference in giving if men and women shared equal wealth?

6. Among the 2,150 billionaires? God.

And he’s mates with Vladamir Putin! God Nisanov is a Russian property developer who received the “Order of Friendship” from the Russian president for his contribution to the country’s economy. According to his Wikipedia page, he speaks six languages. So about 6,903 short of a proper deity then.

And if there’s one thing we know about God, he has lots of children: while Nisanov has three himself, a virile 25% of billionaires have four children — and like US President Donald Trump, 17% have five or more, according to data from 1996 to 2015 analysed by GoCompare.

The new initiative is an important part of our largest campaign yet, Global Goal Live: The Possible Dream, to end extreme poverty and combat climate change. The campaign, in partnership with Teneo, will be running throughout 2020 — and will culminate in a historic 10-hour global media event, with major simultaneous events in New York, Lagos, Seoul, and Dubai, along with events in yet-to-be-announced cities in Latin America and Europe. 

You can find out how to get involved and take action with us here

Disclosure: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a funding partner of Global Citizen.

Editor's note: This piece has been updated to include a disclosure that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a funding partner of Global Citizen. We regret the oversight.

You can join the Global Citizen Live campaign to defeat poverty and defend the planet by taking action here, and become part of a movement powered by citizens around the world who are taking action together with governments, corporations, and philanthropists to make change.


Defeat Poverty

6 Facts About Billionaires You Definitely Need to Know

By James Hitchings-Hales