If you knew what I know about the power of giving, you would not let a single meal pass without sharing it in some way.
For five years, the 40th national leader of the South American country of Uruguay, Jose Alberto Mujica Cordano, was the world’s poorest president. He served from 2010 to 2015, and retired at the age of 81. He and his wife live on a small, austere chrysanthemum farm outside the Uruguayan capital of Montevideo—and they lived there throughout his presidency, refusing to occupy Uruguay’s lavish presidential palace and be waited on by its many servants.
As the President of Uruguay, “Pepe” Mujica donated 90% of his $12,000 monthly salary to charities for the poor and small entrepreneurs. The amount left over, he decided, would be the median income of all the citizens of his country. His wife owns their farm, so President Mujica’s humble lifestyle includes just one major possession: a 1987 Volkswagen Beetle. He listed the old car’s value–$1800—as his only asset and total net worth in 2010, the first year of his presidency.
When President Mujica left office in 2015—with a record-high approval rating and a thriving economy—a wealthy Arab sheik offered him $1 million for his now-famous Volkswagen. He said, if he did sell the old car, that he would donate the entire amount to a program he supports for housing the homeless.
His humility may have come from the 13 years he spent in prison, a captive of the brutal Uruguayan military dictatorship at the time. His imprisonment included two years of solitary confinement underground in an empty old horse-watering trough. He said “My years in jail were a bit like a workshop for me—that actually forged my way of thinking and my values.”