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Steven Crandell: An Open Letter to Bill Gates and Kevin Roberts

Dear Bill Gates and Kevin Roberts,

Here’s the challenge:

The people of the world are ready for one of the biggest innovations ever — the merger of business and philanthropy.

Climate change has presented the unifying threat. Technology has given us hope for solutions. Governments around the globe seem more willing to collaborate than ever before. But only business has the horsepower to accelerate positive change by adopting philanthropic goals into their strategy.

There is no bigger sales challenge in the world than getting businesses to see that their market share can increase and the long-term profitability can grow as they build sustainable, pro-social goals into their products and services and operations.

There is no greater positive benefit to be reaped than this transformation in how the world operates. (September’s U.N. Climate Summit showed hints of what is possible.)

The big question, gentlemen, is: Are you up to promoting the biggest business and philanthropic opportunity of the century?

“We are the music makers. And we are the dreamers of dreams.”
Willy Wonka, from the movie Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Of course, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which you co-chair, Bill, is already a leader in impact investing and already works with for-profit partners toward philanthropic ends. (Click here to read the foundation’s investment strategy.)

Saatchi & Saatchi, headed by you, Kevin, already supports philanthropy in creative ways.

But I’m asking for more:

I want the man with unmatched achievement and leadership in technology, business and philanthropy (that’s you, Bill) to appear in a campaign devised by the clever minds and hearts of one of the world’s most creative ad agencies (those are your mates, Kevin). The goal of the campaign: build awareness so businesses can start planning now for the collaborative, pro-social/ for-profit future that awaits the planet.

Does the goal seem impossible? The plan far-fetched?

Doesn’t innovation often present this way in the beginning?

What about when two college students decided in 1975 to democratize computers by writing software (the precursor to Windows) that would empower anyone to use the most complicated and powerful tools on the planet?

Wasn’t that far-fetched?

“If you want to view paradise, simply look around and view it. / Anything you want to — do it. / Want to change the world — there’s nothing to it.”
— Willy Wonka

Change is upon us whether we like it or not. Once upon a time, baby boomers made up the biggest part of the U.S. population. Not any more. Now millennials (born 1980-2000) are No. 1.

NPR reports that millennials are not only really good at tech innovation — as a rule, they are more tolerant, diverse and optimistic than us boomers.

Is the millennial generation simply going to accept that for-profit companies focus only on growth and an attractive return on investment without regard to the sustainability of the planet or the quality of life of its inhabitants? Or might this powerful new generation start buying more — a lot more — from companies that steward the earth and improve the lot of the people who live here?

Worth thinking about, isn’t it?

Worth discussing.

Bill ... thoughts?

“If technology is purely market-driven and we don’t focus innovation on the big inequities, then we could have amazing inventions that leave the world even more divided. We won’t improve public schools. We won’t cure malaria. We won’t end poverty. We won’t develop the innovations poor farmers need to grow food in a changing climate.”
— Bill Gates, from the commencement speech he made with his wife, Melinda, to Stanford University students in June 2014

Kevin?

“We need radical optimists and extreme enthusiasts but most of all we need ideas. Ideas have magical power. In a world of major impasses and eroding differences, ideas improve the way we live.”
— Kevin Roberts, speech to INSEAD in France, September 2014

I like how this is developing. Let’s continue.

Bill:

“Innovation can solve almost every problem.”

Kevin:

“Institutions such as governments, churches and media are limited as agents of change. Geared defensively; a lot of reporting and policy and a little bit of absolution. Humanity will never strategize, rationalize, negotiate, consult or hope its way to glory. Only business can take direct action to move hearts. Business meets needs, solves problems, innovates, improves lives, create jobs and offers everyday joy. Only business has the freedom to win through imagination and ideas.”

Bill:

“I often talk about the miracle of vaccines: With just a few doses, they protect children from deadly diseases forever. When it comes to clean energy, we need breakthroughs that are just as miraculous. Just like vaccines, clean-energy miracles don’t just happen by chance. We have to make them happen, through long-term investments in research and development.”
Gatesnotes’ blog June 25, 2014

Kevin:

“We live, work and play deep in a participation economy ... Consumers are becoming producers, and small players have big reach.”
Saatchi & Saatchi Red Paper

Bill:

“Optimism is often dismissed as false hope. But there is also false hopelessness. That’s the attitude that says we can’t defeat poverty and disease. We absolutely can.”

Kevin:

“Let’s do it together, for none of us is as strong as all of us.”

Wow, so glad you are both so positive about this.  

I just want you to know that you won’t be in this alone. Not only will I volunteer my services pro bono to write and fundraise for this effort, I am prepared to give 1 percent of my annual income to Saatchi & Saatchi to fund the cause.

Would you both do the same?

I believe profit and pro-social purpose will join forces. It’s ultimately about survival. Collaborate or die. That’s one of humanity’s oldest — and most motivating — stories. The seed of community. The spur for innovation.

The only question is how much time will we waste — and how much suffering we will condone — before we start the process of change.

So, Bill ... Kevin ... can I count on you?

— Author and writer Steven Crandell helps integrate story and strategy for organizations, with nonprofit foundations a particular focus. “Thinking Philanthropy” aims to provide practical, thought-provoking ideas about giving. This article was cross-posted on Tumblr. Steven can be contacted at [email protected], or follow him on Twitter: @stevencrandell. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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