Editor’s Note: Author Don Tapscott will be guest blogging daily from Davos.
I attended a luncheon hosted by Matthew Bishop, co-author of Philanthrocapitalism: How the Rich Can Save the World. When I look at the many problems confronting the world today, it seems to me that the rich, more than any other group, have messed it up. But Philanthrocapitalism agues that philanthropists can be critical to helping solve society’s large problems because of their unique perspective.
Philanthrocapitalists are "hyperagents" who have the capacity to do some essential things far better than anyone else. They do not face elections every few years, like politicians, or suffer the tyranny of shareholder demands for ever-increasing quarterly profits. Nor do they have to devote vast amounts of time and resources to raising money, like most heads of NGOs. That frees them to think long-term, to go against conventional wisdom, to take up ideas too risky for government, to deploy substantial resources quickly when the situation demands it—above all, to try something new.
According to Bishop, Philanthrocapitalists are developing a new (if familiar-sounding) language to describe their business-like approach. Their philanthropy is "strategic," "market conscious," "impact oriented," "knowledge based," often "high engagement," and always driven by the goal of maximizing leverage of the donor's money. Seeing themselves as social investors, not traditional donors, some of them engage in "venture philanthropy." As entrepreneurial "philanthropreneurs," they love to back social entrepreneurs who offer innovative solutions to society's problems.
For some time there has been the expression among the Corporate Social Responsibility community: “You do well by doing good.” I don’t think this has been true. Many companies have done well by being awful – by having terrible labor practices, bad products bolstered by good advertising, externalizing costs (such as industrial emissions) on society and the like. However, increasingly in the age of transparency everyone is being held to higher standards. And a new generation of people with wealth are beginning to understand that you can’t succeed in a world that is failing.
My hope is that wealthy people will read this book and follow the lead of their most progressive peers. And I’m keen to know what readers of BusinessWeek think. Can the rich be a big part of the solution to achieving sustainability and justice in the global economy?
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