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Getting the World Online Isn't Philanthropy

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Before leaving her post as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton gave a push to a new organization with a mission to connect the world. Called the Alliance for the Affordable Internet, it included the World Wide Web Foundation, and tech companies Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Intel and Cisco Systems.

"We're going to help the next billion people come online," Clinton said.

Maybe so, but many corporations still worry about the bottom line and are understandably locked into the quarter-to-quarter mindset.

Yet, something might happen worldwide as more executives are aware that the new economy, the truly global economy, is looking to business to help solve some of the most critical social issues confronting communities around the world. Such action might also open new markets for Silicon Valley.

Noble Laureate Milton Friedman liked to say, "The Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase Its Profits." On the other hand, it can be the path to employees' satisfaction, corporate identity and increased profits. And in the developing world, it can be market-making par excellence. In fact, the evolving credo of "doing well by doing good," often articulated by management guru, Peter Drucker, is fast becoming smart management strategy, raising the concept of social responsibility to a new level.

Drucker, who said "Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things," tells the story of Julius Rosenwald, CEO of Sears Roebuck who warmly embraced and supported the 4H Clubs, which in turn, made Sears highly profitable.

The concept of the "social responsibility" of business -- now engrained in the psyche of most corporations -- is an ethical theory that corporations, like all of us really, have obligations to do things to benefit society at large. Many corporations -- through their foundations mostly -- routinely support schools, homeless centers, performing art organization and the like. This is corporate responsibility to be sure, but it is or can be more than philanthropy.

Recently, Mark Zukerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook launched a new global initiative to bring the Internet to the other two thirds of the world. Called Internet.org, the effort also involves founding companies Samsung, Nokia, Qualcomm, Ericsson, Media Tek, and Opera. Together they hope to provide affordable access to the net by "By Reducing the cost and amount of data for most apps and enabling new business models... (allowing) the next 5 million to come online."

Earlier, Google announced Project Loon, also to provide Internet access to underserved areas via airborne balloons connected to a ground station hooked up to a local Internet service provider. The system is still being tested.

These efforts could change the paradigm overnight and virtually eliminate the so-called digital divide between the developed and developing nations. Doing so would dramatically enable many less developed nations provide education and heath care to their citizens, foster innovation in business, agriculture and government itself, and help end the cycle of poverty.

But why isn't the internet.org alliance and Project Loon working together? Why aren't more companies joining in the effort to insure that every man, woman and child have broadband access-as important today as air, water and electricity.

Maybe there is enough for everybody to do there own thing but one has to believe a Facebook /Google partnership is in the cards.