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Innovation and Philanthropy – Bill Gates Talks

For a long time now we have been looking to bridge the gap between Innovation and Philanthropy. While we see quite a bit of innovation in the social enterprise space (Kiva, etc) we see a very traditional model remaining in most charities.  For this reason, we have been working with GiveEasy to try and bridge the gap between innovation, technology and philanthropy. At The Strategy Group, we have recently been working with several not for profits around innovation – developing both strategy and culture. The thirst for this form of thought-leadership is significant – which is very positive and bodes well for the future.

It is interesting then to read about Bill Gates, one of the world’s leading inventors, businessmen and donors, who said that philanthropy, like technology, depends on innovation to achieve the best possible results. Gates said in Washington Thursday that most innovation is driven by private enterprise, but that only governments can make broader social improvements.

Many would say that Bill Gates’s technological inventions have had a most profound impact on people’s lives in recent decades. He is now working to improve people’s lives in other areas. His charitable foundation is at the forefront in fighting deadly diseases and poverty.

He told an audience at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington recently that his philanthropic work is focused on areas that governments cannot cover.

“There are things in terms of trying out social programs in innovative ways that government is just  — because of the way the job incentives work – they are not going to try out new designs like philanthropy can, and they are not going to have volunteer hours coming in to leverage their resources like philanthropy can,” said Gates.

Gates said charity plays a huge role in America. He noted that universities produce successful professionals who then give financial support to universities.  He said privately funded institutions in the United States produce inventions that no government can produce. As an example, he cited the March of Dimes Foundation and its initiative to eradicate polio. The foundation has financed the development of two polio vaccines, an earlier one created by Jonas Salk and a more recent oral vaccine developed by Albert Sabin.

“The March of Dimes [foundation] invented the polio vaccine – the thing that we are using to go out and eradicate — make it the second disease after smallpox that gets eradicated.  This is the oral polio vaccine.  That’s 10 doses and this thing costs $1.30 or 13 cents per kid  – that was philanthropic money, March of Dimes money that caused both its predecessor, called IPV (inactivated poliovirus vaccine), which was the Salk shot, this is the Sabin oral — they created those things,” said Gates.

But Gates pointed out that philanthropy cannot be a substitute for the government in achieving wider societal improvements in areas such as public health, education, employment and others.

“When you want to give every child in America a good education, or make sure they are not starving, that’s got to be [done by] government because philanthropy isn’t there day in and day out serving the entire population. It’s just not of the scale or the design to do that. It’s there to try out things, including funding disease research or, you know, academic studies to see if something’s more effective,” said Gates.

Gates said philanthropy depends on research and innovation in seeking solutions for societal problems, but that it is the government’s role to work for an overall better society.

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