Philanthropy was once associated with rich retirees, but the face of philanthropy is becoming much younger, and it’s becoming much better poised to make social change and overcome social challenges around the world.
More and more philanthropists are becoming “impact investors,” a phrase coined to describe those who blur the line between giving and investing, philanthropy and investment.
It’s said we’re living in the age of philanthropy, and this observation has been confirmed by a new report from Harvard University, funded by the Swiss bank UBS. The research found that more and more wealthy people are deciding to invest their money in good causes. And among the world’s philanthropic foundations, almost three quarters were launched in the last 25 years.
This recent surge is partly due to rapid growth around the world; as well as increasing inequality. The richest 1% in the world now own up to half of its wealth, compared to 48% 10 years ago. There are now more than 15 million millionaires worldwide, and close to 2,000 billionaires, with many, including Indian-born, UK-based entrepreneur Tej Kohli, giving back.
For billionaires such as Tej Kohli, philanthropy plays a very important role, and is driven by a sense of moral obligation, and a desire to help change the world in positive ways by investing in sectors such as finance, digital media and renewable energy, and aiming to help combat the adverse effects of globalisation and automation.
After growing up in Delhi, Kohli studied engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, before going on to invest in robotics, artificial intelligence, genomics and more. He also set up a foundation in 2005 with his wife Wendy to work on causes such as preventing and treating corneal blindness. And the Tej Kohli story is just one inspiring others around the world to work towards making positive changes, and solving problems, for future generations.
The most popular focus of foundations worldwide, whose collective wealth makes up a massive
$1.5 trillion, is education, according to the report. That’s more than the 2018 budget of the US federal government going towards causes including educating younger generations, some who otherwise wouldn’t have access to school at all. Following education were social welfare, health, arts and culture, and reducing poverty.
The report states that if this upward trend continues, philanthropy will have an increasingly significant social and economic impact. With such a focus on education, the report also points out that philanthropic work will also help economic growth. And such philanthropy is helping to raise the social responsibility of businesses, too.
About 95% of all of the foundations surveyed by Harvard University were in Europe and the US, as the researchers were unable to get data from some countries. However, with the increasing prevalence of entrepreneurs across the world, and in particular the East, where the career path is becoming more and more acceptable, the number of wealthy individuals is set to continue increasing.
How close are robots to science fiction?
Gone are the days when robots were simply a feature in far off visions of the future – they’re increasingly being implemented across industries to take pressure off workforces and help organisations and professionals work more efficiently and safely.
And such progress has increasingly been helped along by investors, such as Tej Kohli Ventures, founded and backed by the Indian philanthropist, businessman and billionaire. Thanks to investors including Tej Kohli, robots are becoming fully fledged parts of workforces around the world.
But some experts are concerned that the idea lawmakers and others have of robots is rooted less in reality, and is closer to science fiction, where robots are more likely to have a capacity for moral judgement, and are able to assess what is fair and just, like humans.
In February last year, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the civil law rules of robots. It proposed to create a special legal status for robots that were sufficiently advanced and autonomous, which would give them personhood. This meant that if it caused damage or harmed someone, the robot’s personhood status would take the legal responsibility away from the manufacturer and onto the robot itself.
But in an open letter to Jean-Claude Junker and others, a group of signatories representing AI and robotics researchers, industry leaders, law and ethics experts, health specialists and political leaders urged the European Commission to rethink this approach.
They pointed to a lack of understanding behind how AI really works and what robots are capable of. They said the European Parliament’s proposal was based on the “overvaluation of the actual capabilities of even the most advanced robots, a superficial understanding of unpredictability and self-learning capacities and, a robot perception distorted by science fiction and a few recent sensational press announcements”.
But its not just the EU and Europe that have a responsibility to grasp the roles, limits and capabilities of robots; AI and robotics are becoming a booming industry across the world, particularly in the East, where start-ups and entrepreneurs are flourishing.
Alongside the idea that robots should be held legally responsible for their actions are the reports in recent years that AI machines are picking up racist and sexist ideas. This is a concern that goes as far back as 1986, when a medical school in London was found guilty of racial and sexist discrimination. The developers at St George’s hospital’s medical school automated the school’s admissions process based on data from the 1970s, which ended up selecting males with Anglo-Saxon names for interviews.
While the boundaries between science fiction and reality continue to be blurred by both developers and policy makers, albeit in different ways, for philanthropists such as Tej Kohli, investments into AI are important for solving the questions of the future, as well as ensuring we keep a level head with how robots are treat by the law, and ensuring the safety of humans.
This is how philanthropists invest
It was reported that Jeff Bezos, founder and chief executive of Amazon, recently overtook Bill Gates as the richest man in the world. He only did so for a few hours, but still, not many people can claim the same. But Bezos’s $84 billion fortune looks to be burning a hole in his pocket; he tweeted his followers to ask for their suggestions on what causes he should give to, and explained that he wanted his philanthropy to be based on the short-term “intersection of urgent demand and lasting impact”.
He gave the example of a recent project by Amazon to provide a homeless shelter for families in Seattle, and has also recently made a multimillion dollar investment into TheDream.US, an organisation working to improve college access for undocumented immigrant youths who were brought to the US at a young age.
This puts Bezos in stark contrast with many other philanthropists looking for longer term, wider change. For example, looking at the causes close to billionaire philanthropist Tej Kholi vs Jeff Bezos, their priorities are quite different, and on different timescales. Kholi hopes to control and reduce the scale of avoidable corneal blindness around the world by 2030.
When thinking of how best to approach philanthropy, there’s much for entrepreneurs and philanthropists to consider and balance. Their approach will ideally be both ambitious and achievable, as well as easily measurable, and with the potential of much human return on investment. And that goes for entrepreneurs across industries and across the world, with the increasing number of entrepreneurs in the East.
Philanthropists must also focus on problems that can be transformational and fixable, but are also challenging and affect a large number of people. To do this, they must find issues that have already been solved in theory, but need the backing of large sums of money to be able to put the research and findings into fruition.
For Bill Campbell, former chairman of Visa International, this means founding and chairing the END Fund, which hopes to end the five most common neglected tropical diseases, including river blindness and intestinal worms.
In regards to Tej Kohli, Forbes has outlined in an article how his aims to reduce blindness tick all of these boxes. Kohli set up the Tej Kohli Foundation with his wife Wendy in 2005, and later went on to form the Tej Kohli Cornea Institute in collaboration with the Hyderabad-based LV Prasad Eye Institute, in order to get closer to realising one of his most abmitious philanthropic aims.
The institute has carried out more than one million eye surgical procedures, and more cornea transplants than anywhere else in the world. Kohli has said he hopes to halve the number of people with blindness by 2035, partly by funding the development of methods to synthesise cornea from yeast and peptides.
For many philanthropists, including Tej Kohli, news about overtaking the fortune of Bill Gates or tweeting followers for advice is much less important in comparison to making real, lasting change across the world for the most vulnerable people. This means finding a cause that can, with their help, see real, measurable change on a large scale.
Why businesses are setting up in London
More than ever before, it’s imperative that businesses, particularly start-ups, are truly global in every sense of the word, in order to keep their place on the increasingly competitive global stage, especially with the rise of entrepreneurs across the East.
Kohli Ventures, for example, founded in 2010, has its head office in Mayfair in London, with other offices in Vancouver, Miami, San Jose and Abu Dhabi. The firm focuses on collaborating with entrepreneurs who need investment, and advises them on how to reach their potential, supporting individuals and start-up from emerging markets in the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and India.
For the family office, run by founder and billionaire philanthropist Tej Kohli, London being at the heart of its operations means it can successfully bridge the East and West, partly because London is such a global city, and sits between the East and West time zones. For Tej Kholi, to house London’s top minds at his office is an important facet to his business’s success, and helps the firm have a global influence and presence.
And Kohli Ventures isn’t the only business choosing the UK’s capital as its home. Despite concerns that London might struggle to retain talent following the vote for the UK to leave the EU, more and more companies are seeing London as the ideal home for their business operations, thanks in part to the UK having one of the lowest corporation tax rates.
According to figures published by the Mayor of London’s London & Partners agency last year, venture capital firms pumped more than £1.1bn into the city’s technology sector during the first six months of 2017. London’s tech sector attracted more venture capital investment over this period than any other European city since the Brexit vote, according to the report.
Snap, the US company behind the messaging app Snapchat, for example, established its international headquarters in London last year. It already has an office in London’s Soho, with around 75 members of staff.
The company’s decision was influenced by the fact that a lot of its advertising clients are based in the UK, as well as 10 million daily users of the app. The decision means the UK is the main hub for Snap outside of the US.
In addition, Google announced in late 2016 that it would build its headquarters in London’s Kings Cross, home to one of the world’s best-known train stations, while Facebook announced late last year that it will be ramping up plans for its new London offices by hiring 800 more employees than initially expected.
For Tej Kholi, Costa Rica is also home to one of the Tej Kholi Foundation’s offices, and the non-profit organisation is always looking to operate in other countries where it can have impact.
Have robots covered the five senses?
As long as robots have existed, so have our ideas of them resembling humans. There are many concerns that robots will eventually take over people’s jobs, but there is still a long way to go before robots could be thought to have the potential to replace humans.
Instead, robots are well poised to assist humans at their jobs, by making data and administration processes more efficient, and replacing humans working in dangerous conditions, such as in tight spaces or with poor lighting. But that hasn’t stopped developers from all over the world, including more and more in the East, from attempting to tackle all five senses, bringing robots one step closer to being human.
In regards to taste, a group of researchers from Spain created an electric tongue in 2013, consisting of 21 sensors that were all sensitive to different chemical compounds. It was found to be able to correctly distinguish between different beers 80% of the time.
And researchers have long been trying to give robots a sense of smell. Most recently, a scientist from Mexico created an algorithm that allowed sensors that measured the concentration of certain chemicals in the air, so that a computer could identify where a smell came from. It was developed with the aim of being used to detect bodily fluids to track down victims of natural disasters.
Last year, researchers in Israel developed skin made from organic molecules and nanoparticle sensors. The aim is to help burn victims or those with prosthetics, to allow them to have skin less sensitive to factors such as temperature and humidity.
Voice assistants such as Siri could be described as “hearing” users as they give them commands, by sending audio signals to a giant database where they can decode and respond to voices. This technology is coming on leaps and bounds, and is used for many purposes, including search engines, controlling aeroplanes and transcribing medical records.
And lastly, giving robots “vision” has long been an aim of developers, and has led to facial recognition software which is now widely used, with high levels of accuracy, on social media, for example. But for billionaire businessman and philanthropist Tej Kohli, lifestyle is just one area that robots can enhance.
For Tej Kohli, wealth and passion have come together to drive his aim to invest in the future. And the focus on the five senses in robotics, he has said, captured his attention because it resonates with his philanthropic mission to cure blindness.
In 2005 he founded the Tej Kohli Foundation primarily to cure cornea blindness, and in 2015, the Tej Kohli Cornea Institute was founded in collaboration with the LV Prasad Eye Institute to further the cause of preventing blindness and restore the eyesight of people everywhere. He also invests in Rewired, an organisation prioritising the development of Ai using the five human senses to solve problems for future generations.
A Tej kholi donation or investment means furthering the chances more people around the world will be able to see – because if robots can, then there’s no excuse for everyone with preventable blindness not being able to see, too.
The AI is changing how we think
Google’s search engine usually offers a very pragmatic approach to using the internet to find an answer: type in your keywords, and get the most relevant links in response. But its new search feature, Talk to Books, pulls its responses from 100,000 books in the Google Books database to answer our most pressing questions, using what it refers to as “experimental AI”.
Google used billions of lines of dialogue to teach an AI “how real human conversations flow”. Once the AI learned from the data, it could then predict the likelihood of one statement following another as a response – so it sees your search query as an opening statement and finds the responses that are most likely to follow.
This means you might get a less direct, more abstract response to a question, perhaps in the form of a philosophical quote that just so happens to include the keywords you included in your search query. From medical textbooks to travel guides, short stories to self-help books, Google’s latest AI challenges how we think about questions and answers by offering something different in response to our everyday search queries. Receiving a less direct response, perhaps in the form of another question or poetic musing, might just encourage us to think more widely, more outside-the-box.
Talk to Books is marketed as a creativity tool, and perhaps it just might encourage us to think more creatively when trying to answer questions offline, too. But it’s not the only AI challenging how we think.
For billionaire philanthropist and businessman Tej Kholi, AI is full of potential to do just this. For this reason, he has backed Rewired, a robotic venture studio dedicated to developing robots’ sensory capabilities, and challenging the perception that the innovation of robotics stops at the human senses. Kholi lives in London, and was born in India, where across the entire East, entrepreneurs are flourishing.
For Tej Kohli, Rewired is at the forefront of changing perceptions around AI, and is dedicated to looking at how it can overcome the challenges of perception, modelled on humans’ five senses. For example, the Tej Kohli company has recently partnered with the Aromyx, the maker of a microchip and digital platform that can measure taste and scent.
Another way AI is challenging the way we think is through the work of Kriti Sharma, who built herself a computer as a teenager when her parents wouldn’t buy her one. Sharma has created a gender neutral personal finance assistant called Pegg. She hopes Pegg can undermine the idea of the female, subservient secretary, which she says is reinforced by secretarial virtual assistants with female voices, such as Siri, Alexa and Cortana.