Billionaires Aim to Tackle Environmental and Societal Challenges

A recent survey by Swiss bank UBS of its billionaire clients reveals that they are applying capital and ingenuity to make a positive impact

UBS has published its Billionaire Ambitions Report 2022, the report surveys billionaire clients of UBS, revealing their views, goals, and expectations. This year the research found that billionaires are aiming to apply their capital and problem-solving skills to society’s greatest challenges.

According to the study, ninety-five percent of billionaires believe they have a responsibility to tackle environmental and societal challenges, with more than two-thirds seeing it as their duty to “lead the way”.

They see the greatest opportunities to make a difference in smart agriculture, and clean water and sanitation, as well as the broader areas of economic development and poverty alleviation. Education and talent development were also viewed as an area of opportunity for making a positive impact by billionaires.

Often working together with like-minded businesspeople, philanthropists, and governments to develop new models or prototypes, the ways in which billionaires seek to engineer change vary.

Most commonly, almost half of the clients surveyed use their business capital to address challenges ranging from cutting greenhouse gases, to treating wastewater, and improving access to education. This aligns with their entrepreneurial strengths. Just over a third of billionaires do so via investing and roughly the same proportion through philanthropy.

The growing emphasis on solving environmental and societal challenges, often through collaboration, is reflected in a rethinking of legacy. Three-quarters of the billionaires surveyed favour passing down their values and principles to the next generation. Almost half said that it’s important to help future generations, with a third stating that they wanted to use their resources to have a positive impact on the world.

As businesspeople and investors, a significant proportion of respondents think that addressing global challenges helps them to combine their values and financial returns. Similarly, a third believe this to be the source of the best future investment returns.

Pioneering Food Production

Not all solutions to global challenges are revolutionary. There are many less well-known initiatives, and the report highlights some of the sectors making a difference. For many billionaires, enhancing food security is a natural problem to address, as they own tracts of farmland.

This is clear from the significant proportion of clients who see smart agriculture as one of the areas where they can have the greatest impact, working in collaboration with others. This approach can be seen for example, in companies associated with billionaires trialing ways to cut herbicide use through targeted spraying and developing smart rice farming technology.

The research shows that billionaires are most active at the beginning of the farm-to-table value chain, where they see great potential for agricultural technology (“AgTech”) to help transform productivity and reduce environmental damage. Taking what’s often a venture capital type approach, billionaires are deploying data, artificial intelligence, and automation to engineer a new productivity paradigm. Once widely adopted and scaled up, AgTech has the potential to help solve the problem of feeding a growing population on limited resources.

Commenting on the study, August Hatecke Co-Head Wealth Management Asia Pacific, UBS Global Wealth Management, Country Head, UBS Singapore said:: “Billionaires are in an ideal position to use their entrepreneurial capital to deliver fresh approaches and effective ways of doing what’s needed to tackle these issues. They are optimistic about the role that private companies can play alongside governments in creating a positive impact for future generations.”

The billionaire population in Asia Pacific was still the largest but the number of billionaires slipped to 1084, down 59 from the previous year.

In terms of total wealth, Asia Pacific was the second largest region. Total wealth in this region was down nearly 10% to USD 4.2 trillion. India’s billionaire population flourished as it overtook the UK to become the fifth largest economy in 2022. As of March 2022, the country had 166 billionaires, up from 140 the previous year.


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