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Gates calls for 'creative capitalism' to aid the poor

Microsoft chairman challenges companies to solve the problems of the world's poorest

By Elizabeth Montalbano
January 24, 2008 12:00 PM ET

IDG News Service - Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates gave a glimpse of his future as a philanthropist in a speech in Switzerland today, calling for a new kind of "creative capitalism" from businesses to help improve the lives of the world's poor.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Gates challenged companies worldwide to work with governments and nonprofit groups to find ways to solve the problems of the poor while continuing to meet business needs.

"We have to find a way to make the aspects of capitalism that serve the wealthier people serve poorer people as well," he said, speaking via a webcast from Switzerland.

The idea of creative capitalism combines the "two great focuses of human nature -- self-interest and caring for others," Gates said. By keeping in mind business acumen, corporations can find new and innovative ways to solve major problems for 1 billion of the world's poorest people, who don't have enough food, clean water or reliable access to medicine, which the developed world takes for granted, he said.

"This system driven by self-interest is responsible for incredible innovations that improve lives," Gates said. "But to harness this power to benefit everyone, we need to refine the system."

We have to find a way to make the aspects of capitalism that serve the wealthier people serve poorer people as well.
Bill Gates, Microsoft chairman
Gates plans to retire from full-time duties at Microsoft in July and devote most of his time to The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the philanthropic organization he runs with his wife.

Gates acknowledged that profits may not always be possible when companies try to serve the poor, so corporate leaders should change their thinking and not expect that they must make money from new business models around philanthropy. Rather, recognition for the good it does in the world should be enough for a company to take an interest in serving others, because that recognition also has business value.

"Recognition enhances a company's reputation, appeals to customers and attracts good people to an organization," he said. "In a market where profits aren't possible, recognition becomes a proxy for profit."

In a question-and-answer period following his speech, Gates said that rather than having goals that are too lofty, companies should focus on the businesses they know -- whether food, drugs, media or technology -- to work with governments in developing countries to bring resources to the poor.

He cited an unnamed Dutch company, which is sharing its rights to a cholera vaccine to provide the medication to Vietnam for less than $1 a dose, as an example of a company leveraging its core business to bring much-needed resources to the developing world.

Reprinted with permission from IDG.net. Story copyright 2014 International Data Group. All rights reserved.
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