Paul Harris in New York reports on the small, elite group of billionaire philanthropists who met recently to discuss solving the planet’s problems.
It is the most elite club in the world. Ordinary people need not apply. Indeed there is no way to ask to join. You simply have to be very, very rich and very, very generous. On a global scale.
This is the Good Club, the name given to the tiny global elite of billionaire philanthropists who recently held their first and highly secretive meeting in the heart of New York City.
The names of some of the members are familiar figures: Bill Gates, George Soros, Warren Buffett, Oprah Winfrey, David Rockefeller and Ted Turner. But there are others, too, like business giants Eli and Edythe Broad, who are equally wealthy but less well known. All told, its members are worth $125bn.
The meeting – called by Gates, Buffett and Rockefeller – was held in response to the global economic downturn and the numerous health and environmental crises that are plaguing the globe. It was, in some ways, a summit to save the world.
No wonder that when news of the secret meeting leaked, via the seemingly unusual source of an Irish-American website, it sent shock waves through the worlds of philanthropy, development aid and even diplomacy. „It is really unprecedented. It is the first time a group of donors of this level of wealth has met like that behind closed doors in what is in essence a billionaires’ club,” said Ian Wilhelm, senior writer at the Chronicle of Philanthropy magazine.
The existence of the Good Club has struck many as a two-edged sword. On one hand, they represent a new golden age of philanthropy, harking back to the early 20th century when the likes of Rockefeller, Vanderbilt and Carnegie became famous for their good works. Yet the reach and power of the Good Club are truly new. Its members control vast wealth – and with that wealth comes huge power that could reshape nations according to their will. Few doubt the good intentions of Gates and Winfrey and their kind. They have already improved the lives of millions of poor people across the developing world. But can the richest people on earth actually save the planet?
The President’s House of Rockefeller University is on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The university’s private campus, full of lush green trees, lies behind guarded entrances and a metal fence. It overlooks the East River, only a few blocks away from the United Nations.
It was here, at 3pm on 5 May, that the Good Club gathered. The university’s chancellor, Sir Paul Nurse, was out of town but, at the request of David Rockefeller, had allowed the club to meet at his plush official residence. The president’s house is frequently used for university events, but rarely can it have played host to such a powerful conclave. „The fact that they pulled this off, meeting in the middle of New York City, is just absolutely amazing,” said Niall O’Dowd, an Irish journalist who broke the story on the website irishcentral.com.