Sir Stelios is the Principality’s first member of billionaire donor club ‘The Giving Pledge’.
“Money for philanthropy must come from somewhere,” said Sir Stelios, in his office at his foundation in Monaco, with a good-natured smile. The man who helps Europe fly at low costs (founder of easyJet) decided to bequeath half of his fortune to his charitable foundation: “When one makes money in business, at some point, one must give something back,” Especially since he believes that much of his success comes down to luck: “I inherited my father’s fortune, a Greek maritime tycoon from Cyprus, and I was lucky to have been in the right place at the right time to start a business that has done much better than I could have hoped.”
A progressive approach
A mid-life crisis for this 50 year old? Not exactly. “I didn’t make the decision overnight. It was a process that matured over time. I started thinking about it when I was 40 years old. I thought it was time to pay my debt to society.”
So he created what he likes to call a pattern of action. Step by step. First, he gave to the universities he studied in, then he invested in Greece and Cyprus, his regions of origin, then to entrepreneurs with disabilities in the United Kingdom, then a partnership with the Albert II Foundation, then to WWF for the environment.
And finally, he decided to join The Giving Pledge, the generous billionaire club founded by Bill Gates (the richest man in the world), alongside 168 other wealthy people who decide to give colossal sums for the good of others (Warren Buffett, second richest person, Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Empire, Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York and founder of a financial information company).
After his death
Unlike most of his generous colleagues, Sir Stelios has decided not to focus his foundation’s activity in one domain. “I have a very diverse background, and I want to donate in countries where I’ve lived and worked: in England, Greece, Cyprus and Monaco. I think the problems in the world will never stop. We must therefore continue to help, according to our means, forever.” Clearly, and as history tends to show, one scourge follows another, so giving oneself room to adapt is important. Even after his death, Stelios’ legacy will live on. First of all because he is currently continuing to work (and thus potentially increase his fortune), but also because he wants a permanent foundation, which will last forever. And for that, Sir Stelios is putting in place a staffing system. His legacy will be a capital which will generate funds available for charitable endeavors.
In the meantime, he remains active. He decided to devote “a good portion” of his annual income (about $3 million) and “one-third of his 60 hour work week to managing these charitable projects”. One of these projects is ‘Food from the heart’, inspired by ‘Restos du coeur’ (which he observed in Nice) and which distributes free specially made snacks to 65,000 people in Greece. Or the payment of university fees at the London School of Economics (£60,000 per year) which 220 selected students have already benefited from.
Sir Stelios and his team would like to bring other donors in the Principality together.
At a time when many wealthy people (there are 39 billionaires in France) are seeking ways to escape tax and preserve most of their fortune in Monaco, other questions arise. “Do you keep your philanthropy silent or do you join Giving Pledge?” Asks Sir Stelios in a letter he sent to the organization.
He finally decided to reveal his decision, because he hopes that it will promote the transparency and discipline of the Foundation and “inspire other potential donors.”
It must be admitted that outside the United Kingdom, the Western Europe map of Giving Pledge remains quite empty. No one in France, Italy or Spain (where the founder of Zara lives, the richest person in Europe). The only one in Monaco is Sir Stelios. “Yet there must be 25 or 30 billionaires here in Monaco.” So he’s on a crusade. And if he readily recognizes that all these people are probably very busy, he cannot help but remark: “Bill Gates is perhaps hard to reach. But if he receives an invitation from the Prince, he can hardly refuse. Next year, with the permission of Prince Albert II, perhaps we could organize a gathering of Giving Pledge members here, and decide that this will be the European centre. Especially since, according to Wealth-X, an institute specializing in the analysis of large fortunes, there were 806 billionaires in Europe in 2015.”
The Billionaire Donor Club
169 billionaires, aged between 31 to 93 years old, from 21 different countries, have committed themselves to joining Giving Pledge. Reserved for billionaires, this very select “club” has a basic rule: to commit to give away at least half of one’s fortune to charities (health, education, development, etc.). Founded in August 2010 by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet, Giving Pledge has only 40 members, mostly in the United States. In February 2013, this “club” decided to globalize. It is not a legal entity, unlike an association or a company. And membership does not constitute a legal contract, but a simple moral commitment.