THE BLOG
10/09/2014 05:58 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Merger of Business & Philanthropy

2014-10-08-audacityofimagination.jpg

An Open Letter to Bill Gates and Kevin Roberts

Dear Bill and Kevin,

The people of the world are ready for one of the biggest innovations ever - the merger of business and philanthropy.

Climate change has presented the unifying threat. Technology has given us hope for solutions. Governments around the globe seem more willing to collaborate than ever before. But only business has the horsepower to accelerate positive change by adopting philanthropic goals into their strategy.

There is no bigger sales challenge in the world than getting businesses to see that their market share can increase and the long-term profitability can grow as they build sustainable, pro-social goals into their products and services and operations.

There is no greater positive benefit to be reaped than this transformation in how the world operates. (September's UN Climate Summit showed hints of what is possible.)

The big question, gentlemen, is:

Are you up to promoting the biggest business and philanthropic opportunity of the century?

"We are the music makers. And we are the dreamers of dreams."

-- Willy Wonka, from the movie "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory"

Of course, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which you co-chair Bill, is already a leader in impact investing and already works with for-profit partners towards philanthropic ends. (See the foundation's investment strategy here.)

Saatchi and Saatchi, headed by you, Kevin, already supports philanthropy in creative ways.

But I'm asking for more:

I want the man with unmatched achievement and leadership in technology, business and philanthropy (that's you, Bill) to appear in a campaign devised by the clever minds and hearts of one of the world's most creative ad agencies (those are your mates, Kevin). The goal of the campaign: build awareness so businesses can start planning now for the collaborative, pro-social/ for-profit future that awaits the planet.

Does the goal seem impossible? The plan far-fetched?

Doesn't innovation often present this way in the beginning?

What about when two college students decided in 1975 to democratize computers by writing software that would empower anyone to use the most complicated and powerful tools on the planet?

Wasn't that far-fetched?

Bill, you know way more about this than me, but it seems that there's a process here.

First, you have to imagine it. Then you have to believe in it. Then you have to work your butt off to make it happen.

"If you want to view paradise, simply look around and view it. / Anything you want to - do it. / Want to change the world - there's nothing to it." - Willy Wonka

Change is upon us whether we like it or not. Once upon a time, baby boomers made up the biggest part of the US population. Not any more. Now millennials (born 1980-2000) are No. 1.

NPR reports that millennials are not only really good at tech innovation - as a rule, they are more tolerant, diverse and optimistic than us boomers.

Is the millennial generation simply going to accept that for-profit companies focus only on growth and ROI without regard to the sustainability of the planet or the quality of life or its inhabitants? Or might this powerful new generation start buying more - a lot more - from companies that steward the earth and improve the lot of the people who live here?

Worth thinking about.

Worth discussing even.

Bill ... thoughts?

"If technology is purely market-driven and we don't focus innovation on the big inequities, then we could have amazing inventions that leave the world even more divided. We won't improve public schools. We won't cure malaria. We won't end poverty."

-- Bill Gates, from the commencement speech he made with his wife Melinda to Stanford students in June

Kevin?

"We need radical optimists and extreme enthusiasts but most of all we need ideas. Ideas have magical power. In a world of major impasses and eroding differences, ideas improve the way we live."

- Kevin Roberts, speech to INSEAD in France, September 2014

I like how this is developing. Let's continue.

Bill:

"Innovation can solve almost every problem."

Kevin:

"Institutions such as governments, churches and media are limited as agents of change. ... Only business can take direct action to move hearts. Business meets needs, solves problems, innovates, improves lives, create jobs and offers everyday joy. Only business has the freedom to win through imagination and ideas."

Bill:

"I often talk about the miracle of vaccines: With just a few doses, they protect children from deadly diseases forever. When it comes to clean energy, we need breakthroughs that are just as miraculous. Just like vaccines, clean-energy miracles don't just happen by chance. We have to make them happen, through long-term investments in research and development."

- Gatesnotes' blog June 25, 2014

Kevin:

"We live, work and play deep in a participation economy....Consumers are becoming producers, and small players have big reach." - Saatchi & Saatchi Red Paper

Bill:

"Optimism is often dismissed as false hope. But there is also false hopelessness. That's the attitude that says we can't defeat poverty and disease. We absolutely can."

Kevin:

"Let's do it together, for none of us is as strong as all of us."

Wow, so glad you are both so positive about this.

I just want you to know that you won't be in this alone. Not only will I volunteer my services pro bono to write and fundraise for this effort, I am prepared to give 1 percent of my annual income to Saatchi & Saatchi to fund the cause.

Would you both do the same?

I believe profit and pro-social purpose will join forces. It's ultimately about survival.

Collaborate or die. That's one of humanity's oldest - and most motivating - stories. The seed of community. The spur for innovation.

The only question is how much time will we waste - and how much suffering we will condone - before we start the process of change.

So, Bill .... Kevin ... can I count on you?

Cross-posted on Thinking Philanthropy.