Bill Gates did not surprise very many people when he stepped down as the chairman of Microsoft (MSFT 1.72%) last month to dedicate the rest of his life to his philanthropic mission. Gates has put charitable giving in the spotlight for some time now, creating the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with his wife in 2000, and then the Giving Pledge with Warren Buffett in 2010.
Gates derives much of his wealth from his stock holdings in Microsoft, and in this way, Wall Street has empowered him to dedicate his time and money to the needs of the world, at awe-inspiring levels. Outside of Gates' work, the wealth created by Wall Street is coming back to benefit this country in unprecedented ways. Here are five of the most impressive things Wall Street money is doing for America.
1. Fixing the Washington Monument
David M. Rubenstein, billionaire co-founder of the Carlyle Group, has given away $300 million of his fortune. That includes the $7.5 million he chipped in to fund $15 million in repairs to the Washington Monument after the historic landmark was damaged in a 2011 earthquake. Rubenstein has spent a fair chunk of change on other projects that the federal government used to pay for, but can no longer afford. You can read more about his efforts here.
2. Restoring the Florida Everglades
Paul Tudor Jones, founder of Tudor Investments, is the chair of the Everglades Foundation, an organization that is committed to the total restoration of the Florida Everglades. The region is not only the largest subtropical wetlands area in the United States, and home to 67 endangered species, it's also the source of water for one out of every three Floridians. Thanks to generations of canal and dam building to support agriculture, the Everglades are half of their original size. The foundation's goal is to facilitate complete restoration of the region, reverse the damage, and protect the area for future generations. You can read more about the initiative here.
3. Revamping education
From Bill Ackman's contribution to DonorsChoose to Paul Tudor Jones' Robin Hood Foundation, improving our nation's lackluster education system is a big priority on Wall Street. Mike Bloomberg, Jeffrey Vinik, and George Soros are just a handful of big Wall Street names pouring dollars into education.
4. Empowering women and youth
In 2005, a group of women from the hedge fund community founded High Water Women to bring economic empowerment to women, educate at-risk youth, and lessen the impact of poverty on America's families. One particular accomplishment of the organization that should resonate with the Foolish community is the after-school program on financial literacy that it provides for middle school and high school students throughout New York City. You can read more about the group's achievements here.
5. Encouraging Wall Street to give back to Main Street
Julian Robertson, Jr. is one of the most highly regarded hedge fund managers ever, and his Tiger Foundation has worked to ameliorate poverty in New York City. Equally important is the foundation's work to encourage philanthropic giving among investment professionals.
As the Chronicle of Philanthropy writes, "In 1889 the steel magnate Andrew Carnegie wrote an essay outlining his 'gospel of wealth' to encourage his rich contemporaries to give their money away in the service of society. To his disappointment, none responded." But when Robertson offered to match the foundation donations of his protégés, he was met with gifts in the tens of millions, yielding a total gift of $200 million when all was said and done. You can read more about his foundation's work here.
Wall Street has a terrible reputation, and quite frankly, much of it is deserved. The soaring salaries, the cheating, the greed; it can really wear on you after a while. The flip side of that, however, is unprecedented generosity from an unprecedented number of people. Most of us will go through life without being affected by Wall Street in a meaningful way. Some of us will be touched directly, and be better for it.