Millennium Post

Who is a greater business icon?

A lot has been said about Steve Jobs. Indeed, he was a fighter and his success story is most inspiring. His biography, The journey is the reward, written years ago, inspired me personally to try and achieve more. And since Steve Jobs was the creative wild and hippie underdog during the same era as Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, perhaps he overshadowed Gates largely during our times.
Yet, I have always maintained that Gates is the man who is the real visionary – far beyond any businessman the world has seen in our times. For who is a greater business icon? The man who makes billions and keeps them as reserves or the man who makes billions and then uses that money to change the world into a better place to live in?

Yes, that is what differentiates Gates from all his contemporaries. Greatly inspired by the Rockefeller family, Gates, in the year 2000, by combining three of his and his wife’s charities, decided to do what no one could ever imagine. He decided to give away 95 per cent of his wealth to charity.

As of today, he has given away more than 28 billion dollars in charity. In 2010, he, along with Warren Buffett, inspired even Mark Zuckerberg to pledge away half of his wealth over his lifetime by making him sign the ‘Gates-Buffett Giving Pledge’. Yet, what really differentiates Gates’ charitable initiatives from others is his clear-cut focus on the real and biggest problem that the world faces. Yes, the problem of poverty. The problem that 85 top, rich people own wealth that is more than the total wealth of the poorest 3.5 billion.

The problem that while the rich are rich like never before and while science has advanced humongously and soon humans may even dream of living forever, there are millions dying of curable diseases in Africa and other parts of the world. There is nothing fashionable in the work of Gates. He does not believe in having fashionable fights and dinners for animal rights et cetera while human beings live like street dogs and die like them. His is a clear cut and sharp focus on humanity. To be more precise, a focus on the genuinely poorest of poor and unhealthiest of unhealthy (thus, obviously, a large part of his work happens in Africa).

This year at the World Economic Forum annual meet at Davos, in Switzerland, Gates raised too many eyebrows by making the statement that ‘there will be no poor nations in the world by 2035’. Gates and his wife tried to dispel three key myths. The first myth he busted was of poor countries staying poor. Gates gave China’s example of an eight-fold increase in real per capita income to prove that poor countries need not stay poor. The second myth he busted was of aid being labelled wasteful, solely because countries apparently become dependent on it or much of it gets stolen.

Criticising the US’s less than one per cent budget allocation to aid, he gave the example of Norway (which allocates more than three per cent of its budget for aid) and showed how diseases from measles to tuberculosis to polio, all diseases were being controlled and eliminated from Latin America, China and Africa, thanks to the foreign aid.

And finally he dispelled the myth that saving lives would lead to over-population; he showed how countries with higher economic growth rates were the countries with higher birthrates. The fact of the matter is, his wife argued, ‘the planet does not thrive when the sickest are allowed to die off, but rather when they are able to improve their lives.’

All the above points are true, yet 2035 is far too near for poverty to disappear. Gates’ hopes could be a bit too optimistic and his statement may not come true, but the fact is that as long as people like Gates are there in the world of capitalism, there is hope for humanity and poor.

There is hope that poverty will indeed end. This year, when the Nobel Peace Prize committee sits down to decide whom to award the prize to, it will do the world of hope, ethical business and humanity a great favour by making Bill Gates a much deserved Nobel laureate.

The author is a management guru and director of IIPM think tank
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