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Thirty US billionaires pledge to give away half their fortunes to charity

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Bill Gates's and Warren Buffett's campaign draws in top names including George Lucas and Michael Bloomberg

[smaller]Andrew Clark in New York | guardian.co.uk | Wednesday 4 August 2010 | Link[/smaller]

The world of philanthropy got a huge financial boost today as more than 30 American billionaires pledged to give away at least half of their fortunes to charitable causes, signing up to a campaign launched by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates.

In an unprecedented mass commitment, top figures including New York's mayor Michael Bloomberg, the hotel heir Barron Hilton, CNN media mogul Ted Turner, and the Star Wars director George Lucas lent their names to the "giving pledge", an initiative founded last month to encourage America's richest families to commit money to "society's most pressing problems".

The pledge is not a legally binding contract but is described as a moral commitment. Buffett, the legendary Nebraska-based financier known as the "sage of Omaha", welcomed the influx of support: "At its core, the giving pledge is about asking wealthy families to have important conversations about their wealth and how it will be used. We're delighted that so many people are doing that."

He added that many of those involved were committing sums far greater than the 50% minimum. Buffett himself is handing the vast bulk of his $47bn fortune to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which is largely orientated towards tackling disease in developing countries.

Among those committing to give away money are the Oracle software tycoon Larry Ellison, the banker David Rockefeller, and oilman T Boone Pickens. The media entrepreneur Barry Diller is on the list along with his wife, fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg.

There are also names from Wall Street and the hedge fund industry including David Rubenstein, co-founder of the Carlyle private equity group, and the financier Julian Robertson, plus a former Citigroup boss, Sandy Weill.

The pledge does not define any specific causes that the billionaires will target with their fortunes, and it does not involve all the individuals pooling their money. Instead, it will be left up to each individual to determine which endeavours they wish to fund.

The Hollywood director George Lucas said his chosen cause would be education: "My pledge is to the process; as long as I have the resources at my disposal, I will seek to raise the bar for future generations of students of all ages."

New York's mayor, who made his fortune in Bloomberg financial information terminals, said: "By giving, we inspire others to give of themselves, whether their money or their time."

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Unfortunately this will still only solve a small portion of the world's problems, but it's great to see them come together with such generous help. Last I heard it was 40 individuals and families.

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