Richard Branson is latest billionaire to join Bill Gates' $500bn philanthropy club Giving Pledge

Virgin founder publicly commits to give away half of his fortune to philanthropic causes

To remain truly "on-trend" when you’re a billionaire, you have to give your fortune away. A dozen billionaires including Sir Richard Branson have joined an elite club by publicly committing to give away more than half of their fortunes to philanthropic causes.

Sir Richard, Vladimir Potanin, a Russian mining oligarch and software entrepreneurs Azim Premji of India and Hasso Plattner of Germany are among the tycoons who, along with their spouses, have signed up to the Giving Pledge, which commits the world’s wealthiest to donate the majority of their wealth to philanthropy.

Established three years ago by Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, and the investor Warren Buffett, the Giving Pledge has now signed up individuals collectively worth $500 billion.

The previous 92 pledge-signers were all Americans. Now Gates, whose foundation has distributed $25 billion over the past decade, is setting his sights on global figures. “A lot were going to do it anyway but the pledge creates more of a movement, makes people do it earlier, collaborate and do it smarter,” he told the Financial Times.

Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, who recently urged his children Holly and Sam to take a more visible role in the business, said: “ ‘Stuff’ really is not what brings happiness. Family, friends, good health and the satisfaction that comes from making a positive difference are what really matters. Happily our children, who will be our principal heirs, agree with me on this.”

Sir Richard will use his wealth to support “social enterprises” for environmental causes.

Potanin said in a letter: “I genuinely believe that wealth should work for the public good. The decision I made is not just an attempt to be remembered as a philanthropist. I also see it as a way to protect my children from the burden of the extreme wealth, which may deprive them of any motivation to achieve anything in life on their own.”

The new additions include David Sainsbury, the former Science minister and Sainsbury's chairman, Patrice Motsepe , a South African mining magnate estimated by Forbes to be worth $2.7billion and Vincent Tan Chee Yioun of Malaysia, owner of the Friendster social network, who is worth $1.2 billion.

Buffett, 82, is the fourth-richest person on the planet with a net worth of $53.5 billion, according to Bloomberg. Gates, 57, has a fortune of $66.2 billion. The new billionaires who have signed up are worth $61 billion collectively according to Forbes.

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