Carlos Slim Getting Serious About Philanthropy

Carlos Slim, the Mexican billionaire whose business empire spans telecommunications, finance, mining, real estate, and retail, appears to be getting serious about giving away his money, Institutional Investor reports.

In public comments he has made in the past, Slim — whose $70 billion fortune is equivalent to 7 percent of Mexico's GDP — has said that only education and jobs can lift people out of poverty, while seeming to disparage the philanthropy of other global billionaires and declining to commit to the Giving Pledge campaign started by Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates. Yet over the last five years, Slim quietly has become one of the world's leading philanthropists, more than doubling the endowment of his two main philanthropic vehicles, the Fundación Carlos Slim and the Fundación Telmex, to some $8 billion and giving another $600 million in support of efforts to combat blight in Mexico City. In partnership with the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation, he also has given at least $200 million in support of anti-poverty projects in Latin America and has partnered with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop and disseminate more resilient higher-yielding varieties of wheat and maize.

According to Institutional Investor, philanthropy in Mexico has lagged other Latin American countries — in part because of the charitable role traditionally played by the federal government and Catholic Church, and in part because of a lack of tax incentives. A dearth of nonprofit organizations in the country also has made it difficult for foundations to advance their missions by awarding grants, even as the growing private sector has minted dozens of philanthropically minded individuals and families. Slim, who dabbled in philanthropy on a small scale in the 1980s, prefers to create and fund institutions that partner with government agencies and other organizations. One under-the-radar program he supports has been posting bail for indigent first-time suspects since the early 1990s.

Critics of Slim's business practices argue that his higher philanthropic profile is a part of a well-orchestrated campaign to shield his businesses from regulatory and political scrutiny, and that the operations of his foundations are famously opaque. "They are not known for transparency," said Michael Layton, director of a project on philanthropy at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico. "They are very light on financial figures in their annual reports."

Meanwhile, Slim and his family continue to insist that charity is no substitute for jobs created by entrepreneurs. Indeed, his son Marco Antonio Slim Domit told Institutional Investor that his father's business empire has contributed far more to the welfare of Mexicans than the foundations have, while his son-in-law, Arturo Elias Ayub, CEO of Fundación Telmex, argues that philanthropy is no substitute for efficiency. "Why not just make donations to existing institutions?" said Elias Ayub. "Because we believe our own entities are more efficient."

Jonathan Kandell. "Carlos Slim's Giving Side: The Billionaire Is Ramping Up Philanthropy." Institutional Investor 10/14/2013.