Seven years ago I wrote and delivered a talk about how we leave the big problems of the worlds for the philanthropists to solve, but they just don’t have enough money to do that. The 2020 update to that talk is below.
Short story shorter… the total amount of money in philanthropy is less than $1 trillion, less than the value of just Microsoft alone, a tiny fraction of the total profits and total value of the public companies. Too small of a fraction to actually solve any of the SDGs.
The question thus… if we want to actually solve poverty, hunger, health, climate, inequality, etc. then we have to get the for-profit capitalists to turn their attention to those issues, to create solutions to those problems, and to find customers willing to buy those solutions. When we do that, we end poverty and hunger, live better lives, and stop worrying about the climate killing us.
That may sound naive and simplistic, but it philanthropy didn’t solve hunger and poverty in 18th Century Europe and 19th Century America. Those two regions were a few hundred years ago as full of hunger and poverty as Africa is today. What pulled those two regions to the top of the wealth pyramid wasn’t philanthropy from the Moon, it was Capitalism with a capital C.
Somehow that gets overlooked here in the 21st Century when we talk about how to solve hunger and poverty for the last few billion people who don’t have enough to eat and who lives their lives on less than $5 per day.
So how do we get the for-profit sector to care? We ask the question of what drives that sector to do anything? The answer… profits. Create companies that make money while solving these problems, do that year after year, do that at a big enough scale, and the capitalists will show up with their capital.
The challenge is how to reach significant scale before sufficient capital arrives. That is not simple or easy. That is what the impact entrepreneurs and impact investors have been struggling to do for the past decade or two, and what they’ll likely struggle to do for another decade or more, before there is sufficient proof of profits for the capitalists to wake up and smell the opportunity.