Giving by the ultra-rich in Asia is hampered by a trust deficit, an undeveloped ecosystem and a lack of philanthropic leadership. As Asia takes centrestage for wealth creation, the potential for philanthropy to take off and address development issues is vast.

SINGAPORE (Dec 24): Private jets, opulent homes, outsized parties. This year’s surprise hit Crazy Rich Asians turned the spotlight not just on Singapore, but also the surreal spending by billionaire Asians — on themselves. While the movie was fiction, the fact is wealth creation is growing faster in Asia than anywhere in the world. The continent now has more billionaires than the US, with China alone minting two billionaires a week in 2017. Yet, in a region where poverty remains pervasive and wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few, Asian tycoons have grabbed headlines more for splashing out on European football clubs or vineyards in France than for their charity.

In contrast, the US leads the world in ­altruistic giving, with several of its wealthiest publicly pledging the bulk of their earnings to charities and foundations. Foundations are highly concentrated globally, with 60% in Europe and 35% in North America, notes the inaugural Global Philanthropy Report 2017 by Harvard University. The US alone accounts for US$890 billion ($1.2 billion) in foundation assets, versus China’s $14.2 billion. Meanwhile, the number of Asians who have committed to The Giving Pledge, created by Bill Gates and Warren Buffet in 2010 to spur the ultra-rich to give half their wealth away, is also disproportionately low. Why are Asia’s billionaires less generous than their counterparts in the West when it comes to giving back?

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