Anna Tunkel is vice president and director of strategic initiatives, office of the CEO. She is also managing APCO’s partnership with the World Economic Forum.
Last week, the World Economic Forum convened its 44th Annual Meeting in Davos. More than 2,600 participants, including more than 1,500 business leaders, 46 heads of states (representing 1.8 billion out of world’s 7.1 billion people) and hundreds of representatives from the media, nonprofit sector and academia participated in over a hundred of different sessions, private events and interactive meetings.
One of the events I had a chance to take part in was the annual philanthropic roundtable, hosted by the Victor Pinchuk Foundation. The topic of the discussion focused on the future of philanthropy and its links with capitalism, bringing together Sir Richard Branson, Muhammad Yunus and Bill Gates. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair moderated the discussion.
Bill Gates said that global capitalism was creating larger opportunities today than ever. He spoke about the important work of previous century foundations like Carnegie or Rockefeller that provided building blocks for today’s libraries and innovation in medicine and education. He said that science has the potential to revolutionize and scale up philanthropic investments even compared to ten years ago: toilets in urban slums, malaria vaccines and many other examples show effective solutions that reach masses and reduce poverty and disease in more effective ways. He talked about the importance of delivery systems and illustrated his point with a poignant example of Nigeria’s low malaria vaccine rates due to lack of effective vaccine distribution channels in the country.
The discussion questions from the audience were curated by notable participants who shared their own points of view on the discussion topic. Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia asked the panelists about their views on Benefit Corporation – which they all supported, but given how new the phenomenon was, they expressed some caution before seeing real traction and impact.
Andrew Forest of Fortescue Metals asked the panelists to comment on which of their two resources, time or financial investment, created bigger impact. Mohammed Yunus reminisced that he started the micro-credit business with USD 27 in his pocket. Bill Gates spoke about building effective institutions and that in his view, writing checks would certainly not cure malaria and other diseases Gates Foundation and others are working to eradicate.
I personally enjoyed the discussion around the last question asked by Randi Zuckerberg about how the participants viewed their star power as helping them achieve their philanthropic goals and long term legacy. Muhammed Yunus spoke about creating the Yunus Center that allowed him to work on diverse set of projects; Richard Branson talked about creating a number of ventures that were branded differently than him and the Virgin Group, like the B-team, Elders, Ocean Elders, Carbon War Room and others. It was Bill Gates’s answer that stuck with me: he said that his hope was that his Foundation will not outlive the problems it was set up to eradicate and that he was hopeful than in 50-60 years, there would be richer and wiser people with better ideas on solving new problems.