Ted Turner's philanthropy $1 billion to U.N.: Gift is a challenge not just to private donors, but also to U.S. government.

September 23, 1997

WHILE CONGRESS drags its heels on paying the country's dues to the United Nations, Ted Turner has forged ahead with one of the boldest philanthropic moves in recent history. His plan, dreamed up and announced over a two-day period last week, is to give $1 billion over the next decade to the humanitarian work of United Nations agencies.

Critics of the U.N. will surely note that it's one thing to be able to insist that funds be used directly for humanitarian projects or relief work and quite another to appropriate tax dollars to feed a bureaucracy that has earned a reputation as wasteful and inefficient.

Even so, Mr. Turner's gift makes a powerful statement about the value of the U.N.'s unique role and the work it attempts to accomplish. Mr. Turner, whose Cable News Network has done even more than the U.N. to make Americans aware of far-off events, is an appropriate person to make that point.

Huge as it is, the sum Mr. Turner will hand over to the U.N. is merely the amount his investments have earned over the past nine months. Although the donation diminishes his fortune by about one-third, it leaves him no less wealthy than he was a year ago.

The overwhelming size of this gift makes another dramatic point: that those who have made fortunes ought to share them. This is a point Mr. Turner has tried to make more bluntly in other ways -- notably by attempting to shame billionaires like Microsoft's Bill Gates into parting with more of their money.

Mr. Turner's gift won't change the world, or even solve the U.N.'s money problems. But perhaps it will help to persuade others that there is at least as much rewared in giving a fortune away as in building it in the first place. As Ted Turner said last week, ''I've never been happier than I am today.''

Pub Date: 9/23/97

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