Davos 2008: Bill Gates' Creative Capitalism and Muhammad Yunus' Social Business

That Davos, the meeting place of the wealthy and powerful, should include themes spoken at conferences populated more by NGOs than executives means that the war has indeed been won.
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The way it works is that instead of giving money away to a non-profit charity, you help create businesses -- in fact new business models. As little as a $25 can motivate an entrepreneur in the developing world, by funding a microcredit organization such as Kiva.org, which gives out small loans. This process allows that money to grow and be reused and help create true sustainability, unlike the charity dollar which must be raised each year. Now try the same thing on the corporate level and you can begin to see that it is truly possible to create a "world without poverty", and that poverty is indeed an "artificial construction." These words have been stated time and again by Professor Muhammad Yunus', the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner, and they are put forth in his latest book, Creating a World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism. Professor Yunus, also known as the "banker to the poor" is asking that the poor be poor no more and is inviting major international corporations to not make a profit off the poor, but actually create sustainable businesses which also provide a public service, be it in the areas of health, technology, infrastructure, communications, education, etc.

Microsoft's Bill Gates is now also on board, and at Davos just the other day spoke about "social business" as "creative capitalism." Interestingly enough, many at the Gates Foundation, and some retired Microsoft execs are already working with Yunus, such as Paul Maritz, chair of the Grameen Foundation and Grameen Technologies. In other words, slowly if surely, the leaders from the symbol of hyper-capitalist culture are becoming those dedicated to the cause of eliminating poverty, utilizing that same capitalist-friendly optimism and innovation. In fact, many of them are the biggest supporters of Yunus: former eBay chief, Jeff Skoll, Paul Maritz, Intel's Craig Barrett, just to name a few. Arguably many of those deeply involved with the world of innovative technology have always had a utopian belief that advances would serve everyone...unfortunately the reality is that there has been very little "trickle-down" technology and business creation. There needs to be a revised business structure and capital which serves not just profit but human beings in order to create more than "trickle down" but rather a wave of sustainability and optimism. And not just in the developing world, but in places such as impoverished areas of the United States as well.

With two such influential people as Gates and Yunus focusing on innovation, capital-driven change-making and the world economy, there is nothing to stop the social business model from snowballing into a worldwide movement, which can indeed eliminate poverty. That Davos, the meeting place of the truly wealthy and powerful, should now come to include themes that were often spoken of at Porto Alegre and conferences, populated more by NGOs than executives means that the war has indeed been won. The words being used by Yunus are being spoken by someone who has seen both what great wealth can do, and what it could potentially do if harnessed in a more evolved way to help all the people of the planet.

There is nothing wrong with capitalism, simply that it can be put to better use than serving greed, speculation and that miniscule percentage at the very top. It does need to be distributed but in an intelligent way, one based also on human needs so that the social businesses created have a true purpose beyond simply profit. No one needs a billion dollars, and unfortunately, most billionaires and millionaires are not Bill Gates and Warren Buffett and Jeff Skoll, donating the bulk of their money to good causes, while still following what most would call 'sound" business practices.

Yunus already has some major companies onboard such as Danone, building yogurt factories in rural Bangladesh, providing vitamin enriched food, at an affordable price for the poor. More announcements about other partnerships are in the works. One successful social business is Grameen telephone which has built the infrastructure of the largest phone company in Bangladesh. Social entrepreneurs are also an important part of this growth and sustainability and organizations such as Ashoka and its funder, Bill Drayton, are making sure that funds are channeled into the hands of "change-makers" who understand locally what kind of business is needed and how to make it truly sustainable. Others include David Bornstein,, whose powerful book, How to Change the World, continues to be taken down off my bookshelf in Paris by various friends.

Call it "creative capitalism" or "social business," but it is all about believing in the potential of individuals to help themselves, and that they indeed want to be able to do so, to work and earn a living and be proud to look their fellow human beings in the eye.

We are more than just money making machines and do-gooders, we are part of a common humanity. And if someone else's child is suffering, somehow, so is mine. And thank you Klaus Schwab at Davos for truly promoting public-private partnerships and creating a forum which is evolving into more than another CEO retreat , but rather a forum for opinion leaders, governments, business and many organizations serving humanity to gather and ask hard questions, while allowing for the opportunity to come up with concrete solutions.

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