Vanderbilt University doctor vaccinates singer Dolly Parton.

How the Wealthiest Fight COVID-19

Published on March 4, 2021

America’s wealthiest people are stepping up to battle the coronavirus by writing checks, funding vaccine research, building hospitals and feeding the hungry.

The country’s wealthiest people are stepping up in the medical response to COVID-19 and spending millions to support those most impacted by the pandemic.  The coronavirus has infected over 1 million people globally and killed nearly 65,000 in the U.S. alone.  The largest single donation has come from Twitter and Square co-founder Jack Dorsey, who has pledged a third of his nearly $3.6 billion fortune.

While the U.S. government struggles to stay ahead of the pandemic and states compete for scarce medical supplies, these individuals are bringing supplies to the frontline workers and are augmenting the country’s COVID-19 testing capacity.  America’s wealthiest individuals are not only augmenting the work of the public sector, but also offering their perspective and vast business expertise to fill needs that might otherwise go unfilled.

As impressive as this is, many Americans feel the wealthy aren’t doing enough and are more focused on making profits during the economic downturn. The Purpose Report, based on a recent national survey, sheds light on the conflict between purpose and profit, and its implications for business leaders. The survey found much less consumer interest in celebrity than in social movements like philanthropy and giving back. More individuals are finding meaning in purpose-driven issues like civic engagement, the environment and social justice. This timely report suggests that corporate social responsibility will gain momentum as mainstream culture engages people in making the world a better place. Four in 5 people agree that investing in causes people care about is now a permanent part of American culture.

Expectations for high-profile philanthropy are more evident than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic. The wealthy in Italy led the way in terms of large donations, as that country was ravaged by the pandemic before the U.S. was notably impacted.  Billionaire fashion designers like Armani Group founder Giorgio Armani, Prada CEO Muiccia Prada and the Benetton family gave millions to build hospitals and resuscitation centers in northern Italy, the hardest hit region in the country.

Now some of America’s wealthiest individuals are stepping up to help fight the COVID-19 outbreak.   Here is a roundup of some of the billionaires and the millions, they are giving to help combat the coronavirus and the related fallout:

Steve Ballmer

The former CEO of Microsoft has been very responsive to those in need during the coronavirus outbreak. Ballmer and his wife Connie have donated $40 million to efforts in communities they live and/or work in such as Los Angeles and Seattle – he is the current owner of the Los Angeles Clippers.  In addition, the philanthropic couple is providing local lenders $35 million to offer loans to nonprofits, working through the loan structure put in place by the government’s Paycheck Protection Program. Ballmer also maintained his giving levels at the Ballmer Group Philanthropy organization – giving grants to local organizations so they in turn can help others. 

Marc Benioff

The billionaire founder and CEO of Salesforce proposed an eight-point plan for addressing the pandemic on Twitter. His recommendations included addressing the critical shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators, accelerating the production of therapeutic drugs and vaccines and ramping up testing. He also urged all CEOs to take a 90-day “no layoff” pledge.

Benioff partnered with Alibaba to bring nearly 800 masks, face shields and gowns to New York City frontline workers while partnering with Walmart and State Farm to distribute PPE in California, Louisiana and Michigan.

Benioff practiced what he preached, stating that Salesforce would make no “significant” layoffs of its 50,000 employees over the three months starting in March 2020. He also said the company will continue to pay all its hourly workers any time its offices remain closed during the pandemic.

Jeff Bezos

The Amazon CEO and the world’s richest person has donated $120 million and counting to battle COVID-19 and aid those most negatively impacted by the economic downturn.  Bezos has pledged $100 million to help support food banks through the Feeding America organization.  He is also helping to raise COVID-19 testing capacity with a $20 million donation and a commitment to set up testing facilities in all Amazon warehouses.

Leon Black

The CEO of Aramark, his wife Debra and their family created the NYC Healthcare Heroes initiative with an initial gift of $20 million to help support New York City’s medical first responders.  In addition, he has made providing meals to the needy a priority.  The family has donated $6 million to the World Central Kitchen and funded over 1 million meals for New York city healthcare workers.

Michael Bloomberg

Through his Bloomberg Philanthropies, the former New York City mayor and recent presidential candidate is helping cities around the world help fight the coronavirus pandemic with a $40 million initiative. At the local level Bloomberg helped create the COVID-19 Local Action tracker, which publishes local policies a city has enacted to protect residents.  On the global front, Bloomberg is organizing COVID-19 webinars where local leaders can share best practices on epidemic preparedness and anti-spreading fundamentals, as well as the latest science on vaccine development and drug treatments.

Ray Dalio

Often ranked as one of the most generous among America’s wealthiest, Dalio has pledged through his family charity and his hedge fund Bridgewater Associates $10 million to support pandemic relief efforts in China. Stateside he has pledged more than $100 million to provide child care for hospital workers, food for the needy and laptops for children of lower-income families.

In his home state of Connecticut, Dalio and his wife Barbara donated $4 million for medical care and food for those most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. A large portion of the donation was earmarked for supporting child-care centers for frontline hospital workers.

Michael Dell

The Dell Technology CEO didn’t just take a pay cut, he also donated $100 million to COVID-19 relief efforts. The self-made billionaire and his family foundation intend to help small businesses, nonprofits and education systems negatively impacted by the pandemic, and to help scientists test a COVID-19 vaccine.  Dell is earmarking $20 million of the $100 million to the Gates Foundation’s Therapeutics Accelerator to look at how existing drugs can treat individuals suffering from COVID-19.

John Paul DeJoria

The co-founder of John Paul Mitchell Systems and Patron Tequila entrepreneur has launched a $4 million COVID-19 relief program for salons and stylists affected by the shutdown. The Jumpstart Stimulus package will offer free hair color, enhanced education programs and digital support to salons to keep them going through the economic downturn. In addition, DeJoria has ordered his tequila producers to manufacture hand sanitizers to be used throughout the Los Angeles region.

Jack Dorsey profile.
Jack Dorsey in 2018 (Flickr/Mark Warner)

Jack Dorsey

Twitter’s CEO and founder of Square, a digital payments platform, has made one of the most significant donations to fight the pandemic with a $1 billion pledge. Dorsey has created the Start Small Foundation to fund COVID-19 relief efforts around the world, who in turn will make grants to organizations helping fight the outbreak.  The pledge was made on Dorsey’s Twitter account, where he announced that after the COVID-19 crisis he would focus on supporting women’s health issues, education and income inequality throughout the world.

Bill Gates

The former CEO of Microsoft and his wife Melinda, through their Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, have pledged up to $250 million to help the world fight the coronavirus epidemic.  The World Health Organization (WHO), an international organization that Bill and Melinda Gates have historically supported to the tune of nearly $400 million, will get $150 million. The Gates Foundation is second only to the U.S. government in funding the WHO.  The Gates commitment will “strengthen detection, isolation and treatment efforts; protect at-risk populations; and developing vaccines, treatments and diagnostics.” Some $20 million will go to Africa and South Asia to fight the COVID-19 outbreak.

Ken Griffin

The Citadel hedge fund founder and Chicago’s richest man has directed his philanthropy to help Chicago’s neediest and youngest, while also assisting the Chinese province of Hubei, the region hit hardest by the coronavirus in China. Griffin has donated $1.5 million to Chicago’s largest food depository and earmarked $1 million to feed Chicago public school students who are not able to afford school lunches while at home.  Additionally, he has pledged $5 million to New York City hospitals, a city where he maintains a large trading operation, to help with COVID-19 testing efforts and help promote anti-spread techniques. The remainder of the donation will go toward vaccine and immune therapy development.

Phil Knight

The Nike co-founder and his wife have donated millions to COVID-19 relief, largely in their home state of Oregon.  They donated $20 million to Oregon relief efforts, with half going to Oregon relief organizations and $7 million to the Oregon Health & Science University to help the state respond to medical needs.  Nationally, Knight donated $15 million in indirect aid and footwear for frontline workers battling the pandemic. 

Ralph Lauren

The billionaire fashion designer and his family, through the Ralph Lauren Corporation Foundation, have donated $10 million that will go directly to workers on the front line fighting COVID-19 and the pandemic’s victims in the fashion community.  The donation will help provide financial grants to fashion designers in need while also supporting the efforts of the World Health Organization (WHO).  WHO’s funding has just been cut under the presidency of Donald Trump though many considered their work vital especially during this pandemic.  The fashion design pioneer is also providing support to the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust in London, providing equipment to help test first responders for COVID-19.  And Lauren, like many other fashion houses, is using its sewing equipment to make protective gowns and masks for first responders.

Dolly Parton

The country singer, songwriter and entrepreneur pledged $1 million to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in April, 2020, a significant contribution to COVID-19 vaccine research. Results of Moderna’s phase 1 vaccine trial, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, credited the Dolly Parton COVID-19 Research Fund as a funder of the study. Parton followed through on calls for her to rewrite her song “Jolene” to promote the vaccine, and performed the newly mutated strain March 2, 2021 before her friend Dr. Naji Abumrad inoculated Parton for the cameras. Parton’s philanthropy has included the Imagination Library, a children’s literacy program, and $9 million to families that lost their homes to the 2016 Great Smoky Mountain wildfires in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. 

Laurene Powell Jobs

The widow of Apple founder Steve Jobs has teamed up with Apple and actor Leonardo DiCaprio to launch a food fund for those unable to provide for their families during the coronavirus outbreak.  America’s Food Fund has already raised $12.3 million and will work with World Central Kitchen and Feeding America.  “With millions losing their jobs and programs like school lunches in jeopardy, making sure people aren’t going hungry is of the utmost urgency,” said Powell Jobs.

J.B. Pritzker

The billionaire Illinois governor and other members of the Pritzker family launched the Illinois COVID-19 Response Fund to benefit local community foundations and nonprofits that support the most vulnerable in the state.  The siblings paired with the United Way and the Illinois Alliance of Community Foundations to launch the initiative. Pritzker announced creation of the fund at one of his recent COVID-19 briefings, indicating $29 million had been raised thus far.  He personally donated $4 million with his wife Mary Kathryn and his family foundation.  His sister Penny, President Obama’s commerce secretary, will manage the fund and oversee distribution to local organizations.

George Soros

The billionaire philanthropist and former hedge fund manager is making “an initial pledge” of $130 million to combat the effects of the coronavirus focused on immigrant populations, the undocumented and prisoners.  Soros’ Open Society Foundation is spending $20 million to create an Immigrant Emergency Relief Program in New York City to help immigrants excluded from government stimulus aid. The donation may help over 20,000 immigrant families. Soros has also earmarked $15 million to New York City schools shut down for the rest of the year.  Funded projects aid students who need help setting up remote learning and child care centers for parents that are working as first responders.  Soros is also pledging $2 million to early release efforts to reduce overcrowding in prisons where the virus is rampant.

Oprah Winfrey

The media mogul and former head of HARPO Studios has committed $10 million to COVID-19 relief efforts, with $1 million going to America’s Food Fund.  Winfrey has been speaking out about the devastating impact COVID-19 is having on the African-American community so she remainder of her donation will be divided among charities focused on her causes and those she has worked with in the past, organizations like Minnie’s Food Pantry in Plano, Texas, and the Boys and Girls Club in Kosciusko, Mississippi.

Eric Yuan

Eric Yuan may not be a household name but his videoconferencing service, Zoom, has become an American business and household mainstay during the COVID-19 pandemic.  The app’s adoption has increased 30-fold during the pandemic, spiking to 300 million users in April 2020 from 10 million in December. Yuan decided to make his service free for unlimited use in affected regions–first in China, his native country, then Italy and in K-12 schools across the U.S.

Mark Zuckerberg

The foundation established by the Facebook CEO and his wife Priscilla Chan has committed $25 million to fight COVID-19.  Their entire donation is earmarked for the Gates Foundation COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator. The philanthropic couple is also donating to local efforts in cities where they live.  They have committed $5 million to San Francisco emergency relief efforts and $1 million for the Hawaiian island of Kauai, where they own a $200 million estate. In Hawaii the couple is focused on providing food, rental and education assistance.

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