Gates may change direction of philanthropy

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's focus on creative capitalism, combining business and philanthropy to effect change, brings out critics on both sides of debate

While it's too early to tell if Bill Gates will impact philanthropy as he has the technology industry, his support of creative capitalism has the potential to change how people engage in philanthropic efforts.

Gates leaves his full-time duties as Microsoft chairman on Friday to focus on The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the philanthropic organization he founded in 2000 with his wife. It boasts the largest philanthropic endowment in the US, at US$38.8 billion, according to the foundation's 2007 financial report.

Megan Sather, a Gates Foundation spokeswoman, said that rather than focus on specific projects right away, Gates will first work to raise global awareness of some of the foundation's key issues. They include health care -- especially providing vaccinations for rare diseases that affect children and helping to stop the spread of AIDS in Africa -- and bringing food and sustainable methods of agriculture to some of the world's poorest nations.

Gates also will continue to support research and projects that help solve the problems of the poorest people while also supporting business development in the places where they live, a method that's come to be known as "creative capitalism."

Gates first publicly outlined his support for creative capitalism and his views on it in a speech in January at the World Economic Forum.

The idea of creative capitalism combines business interests with philanthropic interests and is related to social entrepreneurship, which seeks the same goals.

Proponents of creative capitalism believe that one can help fulfill the basic human needs of the world's poorest people by also helping them to build successful businesses around the fulfillment of those needs.

Creative capitalism also challenges businesses to view philanthropy as a business; rather than make charitable contributions indiscriminately, business leaders should think about their company's own needs and make philanthropic investments that could also benefit them financially.

While Gates is not the first person to support creative capitalism, he is now intrinsically linked to it, said Barbara Leopold, coordinator, international fellows program for Center on Philanthropy at the City University of New York. "He is seen as someone pushing this," she said.

Because of this connection, how Gates uses his support of creative capitalism "could create a shift" in how people engage in philanthropy, or "add yet another element, another possibility for how people go about thinking about effecting change," Leopold said.

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Elizabeth Montalbano

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