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Bill Gates: The Power of Creative Capitalism & Innovation

Bill Gates, as Emeritus Professor James Cash pointed out in his opening, is well known enough that he no longer needs an introduction. And so Cash brought up on the large overhead a photo Gates rarely seen – his mug shot. A poignant reminder that the richest man in the world is human after all.

But from his time as a dangerous and reckless driver in New Mexico, and technology kingpin, ruling a vast (some would call evil) empire, it is clear that Gates has come full circle. Throughout his keynote address he spoke passionately, compellingly, about the mission of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He spoke to the role of creative capitalism for the good of all, and the power of – and our responsibility for – innovation.

ÿ”Creative capitalism – it is not just about dollars, it is about the power of innovation. ÿCapitalism has done a great job, but the foundation takes to areas where the mechanism has fallen short,” said Gates.

The problems that Gates and the foundation are trying to address are massive market failures. He pointed out that the pharmaceutical industry has spent ten times on male pattern baldness what it has spent on malaria – a disease that kills a million people a year – people who have no voice in the marketplace. He spoke of the challenges in education in the United States – that 60% of black males in the ninth grade today will not graduate from High School; good teachers, with few incentives and rewards, drifting away from bad students; and a educational system not willing to experiment with innovative solutions.

Money, vast amount of money, cannot be, will not be, the key to the solution of the world’s market failures. Gates defined improvement as innovation plus governance. Money in and of itself will not lead to innovation and “you cannot write checks to get good governance.” I’ll admit, it was intriguing to hear Gates speak about the short comings of wealth. As he put it, “I do think that great wealth is distorting.”

“American business innovation is unrivaled.” But Gates finished with a distinct challenge to the attendees of the summit. “My view is that every company should take 5% of their deep innovators, their researchers and really get them to see the needs of the poorest- in their area of work. In almost any industry you can say that there is something that they can do, some expertise that they can bring.”

All of the money in the world will not buy the solutions to the world’s market failures. Rather it is dedicated people, good governance, and innovation that will make the difference. Money is important too, but isn’t everything.

October 20, 2008
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