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Monday, 3 October 2011

Wealthy Indonesians start sharing the wealth

Jakarta (The Jakarta Post/ANN) - There are few places in the word where such vast contrasts exist that one can watch a Bentley overtaking a bajaj on city streets, an act that symbolizes the scale of economic inequality throughout the country.

However, several determined Indonesians are aiming to take matters into their own hands as a means to provide greater opportunities to those who are less fortunate.

Sandiaga Uno, a successful investor and CEO of Saratoga Capital, has found a unique way to link his passion for running with his will to make a positive difference, through the empowerment of young Indonesians.

His charity, Berlari Untuk Berbagi (Running To Share), he has run in three marathons since 2009 and raised over Rp 2 billion (US$224,000) to date through donations, in which sponsors pledge to donate money for every kilometer he runs, with Sandiaga doubling the contributions with his own money.

His next feat will see him participating in the largest marathon in the world, the 2011 New York Marathon, where over 40,000 other participants will be running alongside him in an event that he hopes will raise even more money for disadvantaged Indonesians.

"Anyone can make a difference and create a positive impact, regardless of their profession and their own passion ... I would like to inspire and remind others that we can contribute something positive to our surroundings by simply doing our hobbies" Sandiaga told The Jakarta Post recently.

Sandiaga is ranked by Forbes as one of Indonesia's richest people, but he too expresses concerns about the worldwide trend of the super rich continuously acquiring more wealth while many other Indonesians are being left in the dust, literally.

The number of Indonesian billionaires doubled in the past year alone, bringing the total up to 21 individuals sharing a total combined wealth of over US$55 billion in a country where 13% of the population, or 32 million people, are still living in extreme poverty on less than US$1.50 a day.

A 2010 report by the Christian Science Monitor suggests that the reason rich people decide to donate money to charity is to bring about happiness that can no longer be bought through wealth.

The study adds that, although a correlation can be found between wealth and happiness when an individual makes the jump from poor to middle class, any riches obtained beyond that point will not benefit the recipient emotionally, apart from the fattening of their pocketbook.

Although Indonesia currently boasts the worlds 16th-largest GDP, charitable donations have not followed suit as the country is still ranked at number 50 on the 2010 World Giving Index, compiled by the Charities Aid Foundation.

Yani Rodyat, vice-chairman of Medco Energi was recently reported by Forbes as one of "Asia's Heroes" through her continuous efforts to spread education to Jakarta's street children and her efforts to pay tuition for hundreds of underprivileged children.

Through the family's Yayasan Yusuf Panigoro, Yani pays the tuition for 335 underprivileged children and provides them with living expenses and an Islamic faith study group for them and their mothers.

The foundation also frequently donates to Himmata, which looks after Jakarta's street children and teaches them to be entrepreneurs or organic vegetable farmers.

Yani also runs the Medco Foundation, which sponsors youth sporting events and offers microfinancing services.

Economic inequality is by no means isolated to Indonesia. A recent initiative championed by Bill Gates and Warren Buffet in the United States, titled "The Giving Pledge", in 2010 has made an effort to coerce America's wealthiest individuals to donate 50% of their assets to charity to effectively combat the large gap separating them from their fellow countrymen.

The list now contains 69 signees willing to partake in the voluntary pledge, and discussions in China and India are underway in an attempt to spread the social commitment and obligation shared by many of the world's richest to combat inequality overseas.

Philanthropy, however, is not only reserved for those finding their names popping up on the lists of the world's richest people.

Although donating money can be a viable means of empowering the underprivileged, the World Giving Index also notes that helping strangers and donating time can be of equal importance.

According to the study, although only 25% of Indonesians reported donating money to a charity, 36% claimed to have donated time to an individual or organization and 48% participate in helping a stranger in need - the most popular way in the world to give.

The overwhelming evidence seems to add weight to the age old saying that money cannot buy happiness, but happiness can trigger giving, which in turn rewards us with even more happiness.

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