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April 18, 2016

Billionaire's Nonprofit Institute's Conferences Gather Top Intellectuals

A New York Times profile of billionaire investor and art collector Nicolas Berggruen explores whether the grandiose conferences centered on philosophical exploration and discussion that are bankrolled by his think tank are more about vanity than anything else. The billionaire’s Berggruen Institute holds several conferences a year, hosting some of the top academics and intellectuals, who discuss various topics like “notions of hierarchy and equality.” 

The article also explores Mr. Berggruen’s giving centered around California and Chinese politics, including detailing a meeting he set up with former prime ministers in China and ballot initiatives he's supported in California. Mr. Berggruen, 54, the owner of Berggruen Holdings, owns a charitable trust based in Bermuda, which, although forfeiting tax breaks, does not force him into the spending restrictions and transparency rules of the United States.

Some think that Mr. Berggruen’s giving may be a vanity show — suggesting that he is trying to create his own meetings that are similar in nature to the annual World Economic Forums held in Davos, Switzerland, which feature many of the world’s wealthy elite. His institute boasts of having celebrity advisers like Arianna Huffington, co-founder of the Huffington Post, and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. “In some ways he is a thinking man’s Donald Trump,” said Orville Schell, a China scholar at the Asia Society in New York, who advises the Berggruen Institute. “He doesn’t want anything from anybody, except to be of consequence.”