Well, I have been pondering my latest blog post for a number of weeks now. Actually, a number of years; ever since I first heard about the concept back in 2008. That is when Bill Gates gave an extremely thought-provoking and challenging speech to all those gathered in Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum.
The topic of his speech was ultimately a radical new idea coined as “creative capitalism.” Although, during the speech, Gates does make mention of the first man to actually suggest the concept – Adam Smith, circa Scotland, 1776. (However, he didn’t refer to it as “creative capitalism.”)
Anyway, not to take away from Gates’s speech…. As I said it was given in 2008, but for the sake of this blog, I have just recently watched it again. At the risk of sounding overly-dramatic, his concepts blew my mind. But at the same time caused me to think to myself, “well, duh, why did it take us so long to figure this out?”…….
You see, he took the concept of capitalism, which he embraces as a positive force (as do I), and challenged the audience to find ways to harness that force to use for the betterment of the neediest of the world’s population. He talked about how because of market influences, “the least needy (of the world) see the most improvements and the most needy get the least” and that the needy “have no way of expressing their need in ways that matter to the market.”
Through his speech, Gates offered a possible route to seeing these two realities intersect – the force of capitalism and its market influences, and the possibility of meeting the needs of the neediest. He gave this example, which he took from a book entitled “The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid”: the World Health Organization wanted to develop a vaccine for meningitis that could be widely distributed throughout Africa. But, instead of going first to pharmaceutical companies, the World Health Organization began by going to Africa, to find out how much the people could pay for a dose of such a vaccine. They discovered that on average an individual could not pay more than 50 cents per dose. Then, the World Health Organization set about looking for a company that could produce this vaccine for under 50 cents per dose. They found one such company in India that could produce the vaccine for around 40 cents per dose. So, that company produced several hundred thousand doses that were then marketed in Africa. Everyone was a winner.
This is the idea behind creative capitalism. Instead of being based solely on technological innovation, it is also based on system innovation. You see, Gates believes, as Adam Smith did, and as I tend to, that most people do want to help the less fortunate. But, in our human nature, what sometimes stops us is our assumption that if I help that person across the street or across the world, I may negatively impact my lifestyle. And, while our concern for others is real, so is our sense of self-interest.
Gates’s model of creative capitalism seeks to find ways in which our concern for others can intersect with our own self-interest, such as the meningitis vaccine did for the pharmaceutical company in India and the people of Africa.
It’s an interesting concept, one worth exploring, as we seek to help the less fortunate. Creative capitalism. Why not?……
Hey, thanks for reading. I’ll be back in a couple of weeks.