Bill Gates: A New Approach to Capitalism in the 21st Century

Transcript of Gates speech, and a Q&A at World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland

The slogan of Microsoft is a computer for everyone, and do we really mean for everyone? Well, yes, even though that's a very difficult thing.

So, I think it could become both inculcated and as it's more measurable over time, then you'll get the processes working on your side, and you won't need the heroic CEO time and time again.

Schwab: Then if I understand you correctly, you would give the advice -- that's my question -- that a corporation is concentrating on a few of such projects, not being all over the plate. And if I understand you correctly, you would also give the advice that a corporation, what it is doing is in line with its own capabilities. Is that correct?

Gates: That's right. I mean, I'm sure that every company will do things like matching employee gifts. That lets the employee have more impact in their personal giving. I'm sure they'll do things in their local communities that are fairly broad.

But when you look on a global basis, when you look at the tough problems of the poorest, a company really should primarily stick to what it knows well: Does it know food, does it know distribution, does it know drugs, does it know media, does it know cell phones? There are, thank goodness, a lot of examples which I think would end up covering virtually all the companies that are here at the forum. But that's where in a sense you're developing something that's lower cost, and you're true to the identity and the expertise of that organization.

Schwab: Such reason when we had this morning the water discussion, the two persons who took the lead were Peters Brabeck from Nestle, and Neville Isdell from Coca-Cola, two companies who have special expertise with water.

Now, one question, in doing so, would you advise a company, if ever possible, to work together with governments -- you hinted at it actually -- and with NGOs? Because sometimes corporations are impatient, and governments have a different style of working, and NGOs have a different style. They are sometimes suspicious. So, how do you see the notion of what very often is called public partnerships, and public-private partnerships in this respect?

Gates: Well, certainly the foundation that my wife and I have has found it extremely important to reach out to private organizations. A lot of those are partnerships with drug companies where they're dedicating some of their best people and taking risks, but we take on some of the financial burden so it's within the reach of what they can responsibly do. For them the opportunity cost is actually the greatest thing that they give, although sometimes there's a financial contribution as well.

So, certainly in an area like health partnerships are absolutely important, and I think in some ways those partnerships validate the impact that can be had. If a corporation can find out a way in these poor countries to do things on their own, there's absolutely nothing wrong with that, but some of the tougher problems -- education, infrastructure, nutrition, medicine -- I don't think it's likely to happen, and so I do think where there's reasonable governance, the government is a good partner, and then there are so many wonderful NGOs that are actually now more open-minded.

Once upon a time, the NGOs had a little bit of a negative attitude towards this, and there was almost this feeling of business that as soon as you got involved, anything you offered had to be free, so it was almost like a tar baby; as soon as you did it, then it was they'd want more than was reasonable, and so companies that stayed away almost got less flack than the ones that got in and got involved. I've seen that -- you know, there's still some of that, but I think the attitudes from both the NGO and the private sector have matured quite a bit.

Schwab: And very often you had the situation where when you work together with partners they look at business mainly as a cash cow, not necessarily as someone who brings in a lot of expertise. They will argue we have ourselves the expertise.

Gates: That's right, but the idea of getting cash directly from companies, it's great, people should push for that. There are people like Shell who just came into the Global Fund with a very significant contribution.

That is an element, but in some ways you're not going to have a breakthrough just by doing it that way. If you talk purely about dollars, the aid budgets, the rich world government aid budgets are the biggest piece of the dollar resources out there. The reason the companies I say that we can take the state of the point and prove it a lot faster than we are today with businesses is mostly that innovation element.

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