Daniel Petre: More billionaires should follow Canva’s founders and give away their wealth

Canva founders

Canva founders Cliff Obrecht, Melanie Perkins and Cameron Adams. Source: supplied.

Some of the reporting around Canva’s latest funding round and subsequent references to Melanie Perkins’ Medium post have seemed to miss a major point.

Perkins and co-founder Cliff Obrecht have committed to donate the significant majority of their wealth — which is currently made up of owning around 30% of Canva and equal to US$12 billion ($16.4 billion) — to philanthropy in the coming years.

They will be using the Canva Foundation as the recipient of the donations, and both Perkins and Obrecht have spoken eloquently about how they want to harness their wealth and the wealth of others to solve many of the world’s seemingly intractable problems.

As Perkins says in her Medium post: “There is more than enough wealth in the world to solve the problems we have”.

Clearly Perkins and Obrecht are outstanding humans and the level of giving they have announced is of the same order of what Bill Gates and Warren Buffet have done, as they are committing most of their wealth to philanthropy. 

The Canva Foundation will instantly become the largest foundation in Australia and it will have the resources to really move the dial on some major issues.

You can’t recognise what Perkins and Obrecht are doing — allocating probably more than 90% of their wealth to philanthropy — and not wonder how this sits with the rest of the billionaire class in Australia and their lack of giving.

Two Australians, Twiggy Forrest and Len Ainsworth, have committed to the Gates-inspired Giving Pledge, where you commit more than 50% of your wealth to philanthropy before you die — yet neither are actually giving at this rate now. 

Further, when looking for philanthropists who have actually allocated more than 50% of their wealth (allocated, not committed!), you have to look to dead people (such as Paul Ramsey) for examples of significant giving.

Perkins and Obrecht’s actions show us what we know to be true: if you are wealthy it should be your responsibility to give back in ways that help those less fortunate.

We should not need to force people to give or plead for them to give. Wealthy people should accept they have been lucky (and have probably worked hard) but they do not deserve the wealth they have accumulated.

Hopefully actions like those by Perkins and Obrecht will inspire more people to give, but also motivate all of us to expect more from those who have been the most successful in our society.

Daniel Petre is currently the co-founder and general partner at AirTree Ventures, which has invested in Canva. He is also the trustee of the Petre Foundation, and an adjunct professor at UNSW Business School. He has been in tech for more than four decades.


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Jeannine Coventon
Jeannine Coventon
11 months ago

🐀 ????

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