Elon Musk said Tesla, SpaceX, Neuralink, and The Boring Company "are philanthropy."
"If you say philanthropy is love of humanity, they are philanthropy," said Musk of the companies he leads.
It's an unconventional take, since all four are for-profit enterprises.
Billionaire Elon Musk has said the companies he founded or runs "are philanthropy" because they seek to better the future for humanity.
Musk made the remarks in a video interview published Monday with Chris Anderson, head of conference organizer TED.
Asked by Anderson what he thinks of billionaire philanthropy, Musk said: "If you care about the reality of goodness instead of the perception of it, philanthropy is extremely difficult."
He added: "SpaceX, Tesla, Neuralink, The Boring Company are philanthropy. If you say philanthropy is love of humanity, they are philanthropy."
Although philanthropy has come to be associated with generous donations by the very wealthy, the Greek-derived phrase means "love of humanity."
Musk said electric vehicle maker Tesla is "accelerating sustainable energy" while his space exploration firm SpaceX seeks to "ensure the long-term survival of humanity with a multiple-planet species."
Meanwhile, brain microchip firm Neuralink is trying to "help solve brain injuries and existential risk with AI (artificial intelligence)" and tunnel-digging firm Boring Company "is trying to solve traffic, which is hell for most people, and that also is love of humanity," Musk said.
Musk's take on philanthropy is unconventional. Merriam-Webster's online dictionary defines philanthropy as "goodwill to fellow members of the human race" and, more explicitly: "An act or gift done or made for humanitarian purposes" or "an organization distributing or supported by funds set aside for humanitarian purposes."
Philanthropy is widely understood as the latter and particularly oriented to charities and non-profits.
Musk's firms, though he presents them as offering useful goods and services to humanity, are for-profit enterprises and have helped him become the richest person in the world with an estimated fortune of $251 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
It's not the first time Musk has indicated he thinks direct giving is a waste of time.
In an interview with Axel Springer CEO Mathias Döpfner last month, he said: "If you care about the reality of doing good and not the perception of doing good, then it is very hard to give away money effectively. I care about reality. Perception be damned.
In 2021, Musk also challenged a claim by the director of the UN's World Food Programme that a one-off $6 billion donation by the world's billionaires could alleviate global hunger. Musk said if the UN could prove its math, he'd sell Tesla stock "and do it."
A filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission made public in February showed Musk donated more than 5 million Tesla shares to charity in November. The filing did not specify which but noted that a trust was involved in the transactions.
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