Richard Branson, ever the pacesetter, is piloting something new -- but it has nothing to do with travel.
The founder of Virgin Group and his wife, Joan, are part of the first cohort of non-U.S. billionaires who have signed up to give away half their wealth to charity through the Giving Pledge.
Twelve signatories from countries including Russia, South Africa, Australia, Germany, India, the United Kingdom, Ukraine and Malaysia have signed on to the non-binding moral contract started by Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates in 2010. The pledge aims to give wealthy people more authority over where their fortunes are donated during their lifetime.
The Giving Pledge initially included only U.S. billionaires because, as Buffett told Forbes, "I felt we had our hands full in the U.S."
But going international was no easy task, Forbes reported. Gates and Buffett held dinners with deep-pocketed leaders in places such as China and Saudi Arabia, encountering cultural barriers such as a desire to preserve family wealth.
Differences aside, many of the benevolent billionaires decided to give for the same reasons U.S. pledgers donate: Newly enlisted international signatories said they see giving back as integral to their business ventures.
“As a young man, I never set out to make money,” Branson wrote in his pledge letter. “We set out to create things that we could be proud of and try to make a difference.”
Vladimir Potanin, Russian nickel and media mogul, wrote in his letter that he joined to instill certain values in his children.
"The decision I made is not just an attempt to be remembered as a philanthropist," he wrote. "I also see it as a way to protect my children from the burden of the extreme wealth, which may deprive them of any motivation to achieve anything in life on their own.”
The last big influx of Giving Pledge members happened in September, when 11 families joined. Past notable signatories include Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and Intel Chairman Emeritus Gordon Moore.
Signing the pledge is as an opportunity for wealthy people to give in a “smarter” way, Bill Gates told the Wall Street Journal in September.
“This new group brings extensive business and philanthropic experience that will enrich the conversation about how to make philanthropy as impactful as possible,” he said. “Their thoughtfulness and deep commitment to philanthropy are an inspiration to me, and I’m sure to many others as well.”
See the full Giving Pledge list here.