Billionaire Alisher Usmanov leads the Forbes list for charitable donations in Russia to fight coronavirus

Billionaire Alisher Usmanov leads the Forbes list for charitable donations in Russia to fight coronavirus
Russian tycoon Alisher Usmanov leads Eastern Europe in charitable donations to fight coronavirus with $33mn, in a Forbes ranking
By Ben Aris in Berlin April 20, 2020

Russian tycoon Alisher Usmanov leads the donation rankings amongst the richest businesspeople from Russia and Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) who have donated part of their wealth to fight the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, listed by Forbes magazine.

Forbes publishes a famous annual rich list and recently added a list of the biggest donors who have publically revealed the amount of donations specifically targeted to aid in the fight against the virus.

Philanthropy has become a thing amongst the super-wealthy in recent years, with Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and George Soros being amongst the most prominent. But in this time of crisis Forbes has listed the world’s billionaires that have contribute money and resources to help in the battle against the killer virus that is threatening all of humanity rather than just one company or a few regions in a country.

The founder of Twitter, Jack Dorsey, is at the top of the list, having earmarked $1bn of his $3.9bn fortune to the coronavirus and related causes. Second on the list is Bill and Melinda Gates with $225mn that they are using to build factories to manufacture vaccines for the seven leading candidate treatments, among other things, although it is almost certain that only one or two of these will be approved for use. “We need to get ahead of the game and [get] manufacturing ready for all the possibilities, even if most of them don't reach the finish line,” Gates told Trevor Noah of the Daily Show last week. “We can’t start building only after one of them is chosen. Time is of the essence here.” Philanthropy amongst the tycoons from Eastern Europe is still a relative new concept, but several of Russia’s top businessmen have started to embrace their social responsibilities, especially as environmental, social and governance (ESG) is increasingly being adopted by the market.

Uzbek-born Russian tycoon Alisher Usmanov was the highest ranked donor from emerging Europe and moreover is the only one who is donating purely out of charity, as the other leading Russian industrial lights have donated to help regions that host their companies. Usmanov has dedicated $33.2mn to the coronavirus fight, according to Forbes.

Usmanov comes in the list just behind Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, who donated $37mn and with whom Usmanov has done business. A large part of Usmanov’s wealth came from a 2008 deal to buy an 8% stake in Zuckerberg’s Facebook before it IPO’d in 2012.

And Usmanov comes in ahead of Chinese tycoon Jack Ma, the owner of the Alibaba Group, a multinational technology conglomerate, who donated $14mn and with whom Usmanov also has business ties in joint Russian-Chinese e-commerce sites.

Usmanov has already emerged as one of Russia’s most generous businessmen and was already in the process of withdrawing from business to concentrate more on philanthropy since he turned 60 seven years ago. He has reportedly already donated a total of $2.6bn to charity during his career, including several hundred million dollars last year alone, well before the pandemic broke out. He is currently on lockdown in Tashkent where he has also donated “several hundred million dollars” to charity and cultural programmes, Usmanov said in a recent interview with the Financial Times.

Several other prominent Russian tycoons have also stepped up to the plate to do their part to protect their workers, often in remote regions, as well as help the cash-strapped local administrations prepare their medical systems for escalating infection rates, which took off at the start of this month.

Vladimir Potanin, the majority stakeholder in Norilsk Nickel, told bne IntelliNews in a recent email exchange that he has earmarked $143mn to provide medical equipment, beds and social support to the regions where the metal and mining giant has its operations in Russia’s Far North. The donation is part of the company’s growing focus on ESG and last year it had already invested $2bn in reducing toxic gas emissions. However, with the advent of the pandemic the company’s focus has shifted from the E of ESG to the S.

Forbes did not release its methodology to calculate how much a businessmen donated to charity and did not explain why Potanin does not appear on its ranking. In all the claims to have pledged money, it remains unclear what part of the donations are promises to invest and what part is actual cash that has already been spent, which could explain the discrepancy between the size of the claims and the position in the rankings for indiviual businessmen. Drawing up rich lists is not an exact sceince. 

And Oleg Deripaska also told bne IntelliNews that he will commit a significant amount of money to quickly build seven new hospitals in several towns in Siberia where Deripaska’s Rusal aluminium producer has operations. The company has already bought and sent new ambulances to 12 Siberian towns from its GAZ automotive factory in Nizhny Novgorod, as well medical equipment including ventilators and masks.

Deripaska has already had a run-in with killer viruses when he dealt with an outbreak of Ebola in Guinea in 2014, where Rusal has at large bauxite deposit. On that occasion, Rusal spent $10mn to rapidly build a epidemiological and microbiological diagnostic centre that is still in operation today. The centre, in Guinea’s Kindia Province, has just received its first COVID-19 victim, who is being cared for at the centre and was in a stable condition as of April 15.

The only other top tycoon on the Forbes’ list is Russian-born Lev Blavatnik, who is based in London and who has donated $6.2mn to equip hospitals.

Bottom of the Forbes list is US President Donald Trump, who has donated $100,000 to “aid the government,” a fifth of the next-to-last smallest donation by Janice McNair, who donated $500,000 in Texas to help community organisations.