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20 Biggest Philanthropists of All Time

20 Biggest Philanthropists of All Time

Philanthropy has been considered as a responsible and honorable practice for centuries now. A lot of famous people from all across the world are well-known for supporting some or the other cause and charity organization. This OpinionFront article enlists some of the most generous philanthropists of all time.
OpinionFront Staff
"I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver."
― Maya Angelou
The charitable, generous, and giving nature of some people has been a boon for the underprivileged ones. For many years, they have been responsible for developments in different fields. This act of donating is called philanthropy. A person indulging in philanthropy is known as a philanthropist. The word philanthropy comes from a Greek word which means 'love of humanity'.

Being a philanthropist is all about giving back to the society in some or the other way, without any expectations or rewards in return. It not only helps the people in need, but also makes the giver feel good. The donations can be in any form, including food, services, money, land, their own time, etc. Usually, a philanthropist is seen as a wealthy person. However, people who practice philanthropy come in all types of income brackets. A person sharing even the smallest sum of money, reading out stories to the blind, or volunteering for a cause is considered as an act of kindness.

The most famous philanthropists in the world are some of the wealthiest people too, mainly because of their hard work and dedication to be successful in life. Let's take a look at some of the top philanthropists of all time. This list includes the names of some corporate giants as well as celebrities.
Famous Female Philanthropists
Sharing is caring! Caring is not just limited to our family and friends, but also extends to other people and small children in need. Some famous celebrities are well-known for lending a helping hand to the needy, and have also taught us the importance of caring.
Oprah Winfrey (1954 ―)
The media giant, Oprah Winfrey, is one of the most influential women of her generation. According to Forbes magazine, she was the richest and the only African-American billionaire of the 20th century for three years consecutively. She is also a dedicated activist for children's rights and the founder of the Family for Better Lives Foundation. In 2013, she was also awarded with the nation's highest honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Melinda Gates (1964 ―)
Melinda Gates is a well-known American businesswoman and philanthropist. She is the wife of Bill Gates and co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. As of 2014, both have donated more than $30 billion to their foundation. She has also been honored for her work towards improving the lives of children. In January 2015, both received India's third highest civilian honor award, the Padma Bhushan, for their foundation's philanthropic acts in India as well.
Audrey Hepburn (1929 - 1993)
One of the Hollywood's most successful actresses and a great style icon, Audrey Hepburn worked for underprivileged children after retiring as an actor. In the late 1980s, she became an ambassador for UNICEF, and tried to raise awareness about children in need, by traveling around the world. In 1993, she was also presented with a special Academy Award for her humanitarian work, but she was no longer alive to receive the award. However, her legacy of humanitarian work continued in the form of a foundation called Audrey Hepburn Memorial Fund, that was founded by her two sons, and companion Robert Wolders. It is now called the Audrey Hepburn Children's Fund.
Angelina Jolie (1975 ―)
Angelina Jolie has received worldwide recognition for her humanitarian work, especially for refugees. She donated $1 million to UNHCR for the Afghan refugees, and in August 2007 she was made the Goodwill Ambassador at the UNHCR headquarters in Geneva. She received the inaugural Humanitarian Award from the Church World Service's Immigration and Refugee program in August 2002. In October 2003, she became the first recipient of the Citizen of the World Award by the United Nations Correspondents Association. She also started the Jolie-Pitt Foundation for the conservation of wildlife reserves.
Reese Witherspoon (1976 ―)
The Legally Blonde actress is actively involved in women's and children's advocacy organizations. She is also a supporter of the Save the Children organization, that helps provide education, healthcare, and emergency aid to children all around the world. She is also on board a child advocacy and research group named Children's Defense Fund. She also went to New Orleans to address the needs of victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Laura Bush (1946 ―)
Laura Bush, wife of the former President George W. Bush, was the First Lady of the United States from 2001 to 2009. She worked for children's and women's causes, that mainly included their health and education, during which she formed four major campaigns. She raised money for many public libraries, and established the First Lady's Family Literacy Initiative, that encouraged families to come together and read.
Erathrin Cousin (1957 ―)
She is the 12th Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Programme, and has fed millions and millions of people through her organization in the quest of fighting hunger and malnutrition. More than 62 million pounds of food was distributed to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. She also helped in raising the revenue of her organization from $20 million to $56 million.
Shakira (1977 ―)
Shakira, a popular singer and songwriter, is a Goodwill Ambassador of the UNICEF, whose main concentration is on education and the well-being of children. She also founded an organization called Pies Descalzos Foundation when she was only 18 years old. It works for the improvement of children's education and health. She has won a number of awards for her philanthropic activities.
Lady Gaga (1986 ―)
Besides music, Lady Gaga is also known for her philanthropic endeavors. She founded the non-profit organization Born This Way Foundation, that mainly focuses on issues related to the youth, like self-confidence, well-being, career development, anti-bullying, etc. She also donated a large sum of money through the collections of her online store to the earthquake and tsunami victims in Japan in 2011. She also donated $1 million to the victims of Hurricane Sandy, and also supports in fighting against HIV and AIDS, by focusing on educating women regarding the risks related to it.
Helene Gayle (1955 ―)
Helene Gayle is the President and CEO of CARE USA, which is a leading humanitarian organization, whose main focus is fighting poverty and empowering girls and women. The organization also helped the victims of Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, by providing food and shelter to them. She has been honored with many awards for her contributions for the betterment of society.
Famous Male Philanthropists
Bill Gates (1955 ―)
Chairman and co-founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates has ranked among the richest people many times in the past two decades. Much of his wealth has been donated to different charities for global development. He is also the co-founder of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It is the largest charitable foundation in the world, and has proved to be a blessing for the less fortunate. He is also the co-founder of The Giving Pledge along with Warren Buffet. He was recently honored with the Padma Bhushan, which is the third highest civilian honor award in India, for the organization's humanitarian activities in the country.
Warren Buffet (1930 ―)
Warren Buffet is one of the most wealthiest and influential men in the world. He is known for his philanthropic activities as well. He is the co-founder of The Giving Pledge organization, that encouraged the wealthiest people in the world to come forward and donate to different causes. He is also a co-trustee in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and has pledged to give away a bulk of his fortune to it after his death.
George Soros (1930 ―)
Also known as the 'man who broke the Bank of England', George Soros has been an active philanthropist since the 1970s. He is highly influential, and a giant in the world of philanthropy. He founded the Open Society Foundations, which promotes human rights and democracy in over 70 countries. He has donated over $8 billion to various causes in the past three decades, to improve the lives of the less privileged.
Gordon Moore (1929 ―)
Gordon Moore is the co-founder and Chairman Emeritus of Intel Corporation. He also established the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation in 2000 along with his wife Betty, which initially focused on environmental conservation, science, and the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2002, he received the Order of the Golden Ark for his contributions to conserve nature. He has also pledged to give at least half of their net worth to charitable organizations.
Andrew Carnegie (1835 - 1919)
He was actively involved in philanthropic activities, and gave away about $350 million, which is almost 90% of his fortune, to different charities and foundations. The most noted among his philanthropic works is donating money to build around 2,500 libraries in different parts of the world.
Eli Broad (1933 ―)
Eli Broad is an American entrepreneur and philanthropist, who built two Fortune 500 companies. Eli and his wife Edythe, created The Broad Foundations, for improving education so that every child gets the opportunity to succeed in life. They have donated huge sums of money for building stem cell research institutes. They have also pledged to give away at least 75% of their wealth in charity after they became a member of The Giving Pledge.
Ted Turner (1938 ―)
Ted Turner, the man behind CNN and Cartoon Network, is also a philanthropist. He created the Turner Foundation in 1990, which focuses on environment and population. In the same year, he was named the Humanist of the Year by the American Humanist Association. He pledged to donate $1 billion to United Nations causes, and created the United Nations Foundation. He donated $600 million in 2006 to different causes, and promised to use the remaining $400 million for additional funds and other causes and activities.
Azim Premji (1945 ―)
This Indian business tycoon is also the chairman of Wipro Limited, and a philanthropist who has donated most of his wealth to charity. He founded the Azim Premji Foundation in 2001, whose main goal was to improve the quality of education, especially in rural areas. In December 2010, he pledged to donate $2 billion for the same. This has been the largest donation in India so far. He is also the first Indian to sign up for The Giving Pledge, and has already donated 25% of his wealth to charitable causes.
Richard Branson (1950 ―)
Richard Branson is best known as the founder of the Virgin Group. He is also the recent billionaire to join The Giving Pledge, and has committed to give away half of his wealth to philanthropic causes. He has also donated to different charities for education in Africa.
Mark Zuckerberg (1984 ―)
The co-founder of Facebook has emerged as a major philanthropist in recent times. His first major philanthropic donation was in 2010, of about $100 million for a public school in New Jersey. He also signed up as a member of The Giving Pledge in 2010, and commits to giving away half of his wealth. In December 2013, he donated 18 million Facebook shares to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, that totaled to about $990 million. It was the largest charitable amount in 2013. In October, Zuckerberg and his wife donated $25 million to help combat the ebola virus disease.
These were some famous people who have proved that humanity in the world is still not lost. You too can take a small step towards charity, by donating even the smallest of the things that is of no use to you now; for example, books, old clothes, etc. Your one small act of kindness can bring a genuine smile on someone's face.