W Power 2024

The World's Billionaires: A reminder of responsibilities, even as the superrich get super-richer

The planet's billionaires are 120 percent richer than they were a decade ago. Remarkably, 14 of these individuals figure in the $100 billion club. The numbers are also a reminder that the profits of corporations and the wealth created by entrepreneurs and innovators can help solve social problems

Brian Carvalho
Published: Apr 29, 2024 10:41:59 AM IST
Updated: Apr 29, 2024 10:47:33 AM IST

The World's Billionaires: A reminder of responsibilities, even as the superrich get super-richer

Even as debates rage on about taxing the super-rich and their apparent inadequate inclination to reduce global poverty, it’s worth shining a light on some ways billionaires can contribute to improving lives and livelihoods. The Billionaire Challenge, if I may call it that, has sprung to life in the city of maximum brick, mortar, people and wealth—close to half of the 200 Indian billionaires are headquartered in Mumbai, making it one of the top billionaire capitals of the world. 

This is astounding when you consider that a little over 40 percent of the estimated 21 million Mumbaikars live in slums; add to these the timeworn chawls (low quality housing for industrial workers) and suffice it to say that over three-fourths of the city live in sub-par conditions.

Meanwhile, towers with a slum view arise almost daily, many on the debris of middle-class housing of the past; and flyovers and metro tracks snake over tenements that cover their roofs with blue tarpaulin sheets to counter the annual manic Mumbai monsoon. Many of these slum colonies are due for much-delayed redevelopment; these projects will be executed by a few of the city’s and the country’s richest. Such projects would be a win-win, benefiting hole-in-the-wall residents as well as those looking for tony apartments in towers.

Slum redevelopment is one way Mumbai’s billionaire-led corporate sector can improve citizens’ quality of life. To be sure, profit and social impact can go hand in hand. Profitable businesses typically will expand, create jobs and contribute to the nation’s coffers. They’re also able to do social good, via corporate social responsibility (CSR).

Recently, billionaire banker Uday Kotak proposed setting up a ‘Global Acceleration Fund’, to which companies across the globe should contribute 0.2 percent of their annual profits to meet social development goals. In India, profitable companies are required to earmark at least 2 percent of three-year annual average net profits to CSR.

CSR could also come to the rescue of Mumbai’s slum residents. Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal, representing Mumbai North parliamentary constituency in the general elections, has called upon the city’s top developers to redevelop slum pockets through CSR funds.

Clearly, profits of corporations and the wealth created by entrepreneurs and innovators can help in solving social problems. This is, of course in addition to individual philanthropic efforts of billionaires to solve some of the country’s most pressing problems, from education and health to climate and ecosystem building.

Forbes’ annual list of The World’s Billionaires is a reminder of such responsibilities, even as the super-rich get super-richer. The planet’s billionaires—2,781 of them—are 120 percent richer than they were a decade ago. Remarkably, 14 of these individuals, worth $2 trillion collectively, figure in the $100 billion club; a year ago there were six and in 2020 just one.

India ranks No. 3 in the number of billionaires, with the combined wealth of the 200 at a record $954 million, up 41 percent from a year ago. On the Forbes India cover is India’s richest jeweller, Joy Alukkas, a jewellery retailer with over 100 outlets in India and 60 overseas. With a net worth of $4.4 billion, up from $2.8 billion a year ago, Alukkas is the 712th richest person in the world. Revenues and profits have been growing at a blistering pace, and as Manu Balachandran writes in the cover story, Alukkas has been a huge beneficiary of the Indian love affair with gold. It didn’t come on a platter, though. “I don’t believe in luck. Rather, I believe that we made our luck,” Alukkas tells Balachandran. For more on how he did that, don’t miss ‘Joy of Gold’.

Best,
Brian Carvalho
Editor, Forbes India
Email: Brian.Carvalho@nw18.com
Twitter ID: @Brianc_Ed

(This story appears in the 03 May, 2024 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)