Cover (Image: Chan Zuckerberg Initiative)

From Amazon's Jeff Bezos to the Meyers family behind L'Oréal

As the world's health and economy take a hit from the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, any effort from individuals and organisations can help to ease the burden and flatten the curve. Here are what the world's highest net-worth billionaires are doing to contribute to the coronavirus relief efforts.

1. Jeff Bezos

The richest person in the world, Jeff Bezos, announced via his Instagram on April 3 that he would be supporting “those on the front lines at our nation’s food banks and those who are relying on them for food with a US$100 million gift to Feeding America, one of the nation’s largest non-profit focused on food security.

The founder of Amazon also wrote in an open letter to his employees on March 22 that the company would be “hiring for 100,000 new roles and raising wages for [our] hourly workers”, sharing that it is Amazon’s hope to offer jobs to people who had been laid off due to the pandemic.

Additionally, Amazon has donated US$1 million to emergency Covid-19 funds in Washington, D.C., contributed another US$1 million to a newly formed Covid-19 Response Fund by the Seattle Foundation, and created a US$5 million Neighbourhood Small Relief Fund to aid small businesses in Seattle.

He is not without criticism, however—Bezos received a letter from four senators on March 20, expressing concern that Amazon was not doing enough to protect warehouse workers from the virus.

2. Bill and Melinda Gates

Bill Gates and his wife Melinda Gates have always been known for their generous charity work. On February 5, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced that it would pledge up to US$100 million for the global response to Covid-19, which would be used to “help strengthen detection, isolation and treatment efforts; protect at-risk populations; and develop vaccines, treatments and diagnostics.” Additionally, the foundation launched the Covid-19 Therapeutics Accelerator, a US$125 million fund in partnership with the Wellcome Trust and Mastercard to address the coronavirus pandemic.

Bill Gates also committed an additional US$5 million to Covid-19 relief efforts in Seattle. The Microsoft co-founder then revealed on March 13 via LinkedIn that he had made the decision “to step down from both of the public boards on which I serve—Microsoft and Berkshire Hathaway—to dedicate more time to philanthropic priorities including global health and development, education, and my increasing engagement in tackling climate change.”

3. Bernard Arnault

The chairman of French luxury group LVMH has converted three of its perfume factories to manufacture hand sanitisers. The group announced on March 15 that twelve tons would be produced during that very week, delivered “at no charge” to French health authorities—in particular, the 39 public hospitals in Paris. LVMH also committed to supplying 40 million masks to the French health service, with the first order of 10 million masks amounting to five million euros.

4. Larry Ellison

The executive chairman and co-founder of software company Oracle Corporation has been lending his company’s expertise in cloud-computing and database-management to help the government of the United States set up a national Covid-19 database. The crowdsourcing tool would allow doctors to register every Covid-19 case and update the files with prescribed treatments and progress reports on symptoms in order to efficiently find the cure to this pandemic.

However, the billionaire’s closeness with President Donald Trump has stirred up some controversy, as he had reportedly promoted hydroxychloroquine—a treatment yet to be proven effective for the coronavirus—to President Trump, who has been advocating the use of this malaria drug as a possible cure.

5. Amancio Ortega

Amancio Ortega’s foundation has purchased 63 million euros of medical equipment including ventilators, filters masks, and testing kits for donation to the Spanish health system. His fast-fashion group Inditex—which owns Zara, Bershka, Massimo Dutti and more—has also offered its warehouses and factories, as well as commercial management teams to help manufacture sanitary equipment like medical garments and other protective equipment.

6. Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan

Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan’s Chan Zuckerberg Initiative has been actively contributing to Covid-19 relief efforts. This includes US$5 million to local organisations and agencies in the Bay Area, more than US$1.6 million in education grants to support educators and students, and US$25 million towards Bill Gates’ Covid-19 Therapeutics Accelerator to expedite the development of Covid-19 treatments.

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Chan Zuckerberg Biohub has also joined a newly-created ‘Covid-19 Task Force’ with UCSF and Stanford University in order to "quadruple UCSF’s Covid-19 testing and diagnostics capacities by funding the acquisition of two state-of-the-art clinical diagnostic machines.” They announced on April 7 that the UCSF would offer Covid-19 testing for 30 days, free of charge, to all nine Bay Area counties’ Departments of Public Health.

7. Jim, Alice, Rob Walton and family

Owned by the Walton family, Walmart and the Walmart Foundation announced on March 17 that it would commit US$25 million to support organisations on the frontlines of the epidemic. US$10 million of the fund went towards nine organisations that support food banks, schools and senior meal programs, including Meals on Wheels, Catholic Charities, and Feeding America. US$5 million was also granted to the United Nations Foundation’s Covid-19 Solidarity Response Fund to support the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The retail giant announced on March 19 that it would be hiring 150,000 temporary workers and providing cash bonuses to its hourly associates, totalling nearly US$550 million. Hourly wage for warehouse employees would so be raised by US$2 an hour, while rent for all tenants at Walmart would be waived for the month of April.

Working with the US federal government, it will also operate more than 20 coronavirus drive-thru testing sites in 10 states by the end of April.

8. Steve and Connie Ballmer

Founded by ex-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and his wife Connie Ballmer, the Ballmer Group has pledged more than US$25 million towards Covid-19 relief efforts so far, including US$1 million to community organisations in Los Angeles, a US$3 million pledge to the Seattle Foundation’s Covid-19 fund, and US$10 million to the University of Washington Medicine’s emergency response fund to hasten vaccine testing.

Owned by Steve Ballmer, basketball team Los Angeles Clippers has also partnered up with the Lakers, Kings and Staples Center to provide financial compensation for Staples Center staff for the rest of the regular NBA and NHL seasons, which have been suspended.

9. Carlos Slim Helú

The richest man in Mexico, telecom mogul Carlos Slim Helú’s Carlos Slim Foundation has committed US$41 million for the Covid-19 response, which will be used to purchase medical equipment including ventilators, sonograms, and video-laryngoscopes and personal protective equipment such as face masks and gloves for healthcare workers. Other uses for the fund include public health education, supporting the improvement of diagnostic tests and underwriting special medical attention for at-risk patients.

10. Françoise Bettencourt Meyers and family 

Beauty giant and family business of the Meyers’, L'Oréal has launched a Covid-19 solidarity programme, which includes a donation of US$1.1 million to non-profits across Europe. L’Oréal also began producing alcohol-based hand sanitiser in Europe and North America, which were distributed to employees, partners and healthcare workers.

In the US, the beauty giant announced a support initiative which included a US$250,000 donation to Feeding America and a company-wide giving campaign in which it would match additional employee donations for every dollar, up to US$25,000. It also donated surgical and N95 masks from its operations facilities in North Little Rock, Arkansas, and Franklin, New Jersey, to local hospitals and provided relief for small businesses by freezing payments until business resumes.

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