June 27, 2006

Warren Buffett gives $37bn to Bill Gates' Foundation and Gates to leave Microsoft to run it all

The decision by Bill Gates to give all his time in future to his foundation, and then by Warren Buffett to add $37bn to the fund, will together trigger a series of events of truly lasting significance.

Firstly we can expect many more ultra-high net worth individuals to make similar decisions, giving both time and money to help change the future of our world for the better - albeit on a smaller scale, but the cumulative impact could well be even greater.

Building a better world is a powerful driving motivation behind the fact that almost all ultra-high net worth families have their own charitable foundations.

Warren Buffett is unusual in that he has left it comparatively late in wealth-making to begin his large-scale philanthropic activity.

It is easy to be cynical about such motivation but the fact is that 60% of all US citizens regularly give time to things they believe in and the average gift of time is 200 hours a year. Costed at the average hourly rate for earnings, this is a total gift worth the equivalent of 4.5% of US GDP. Similar proportions of the population give time in the UK and many other EU countries. People give time or money because they feel that in doing so they are able to make a positive difference in some small way to others.

Large-scale philanthropy is just an extension of this normal pattern of community involvement.

This whole area is much misunderstood by many corporations, who tend to regard corporate and social responsibility as a minor addition to the doctrine that companies exist only to make money for shareholders. The trouble is that it is very rare to meet anyone who gets out of bed in the morning passionate about making more shareholder value. Numbers-based leadership is a powerful turn-off to most executives - as I have seen in speaking with senior audiences in many different countries and corporations over the last decade.

It should be no surprise therefore that a recent UK survey showed that 90% of 35-45 year olds in business jobs want to leave, while 60% of 25-35 year olds cannot see any purpose in what they do, working each day for a corporation. Numbers cannot produce passion nor purpose, unless people see what the numbers actually mean in terms of making a difference in ways that they feel are important.

Thus we have a serious mismatch between the passions people have for what they do outside of formal employment - where they gladly work for nothing, and their almost complete lack of interest by contrast in what they are actually paid to do.

If corporations could tap into even 1% of the energy which people enthusiastically devote to "good causes" or which causes Bill Gates and Warren Buffet to give away tens of billions each, we would have a completely different situation in the workplace today.

This is one reason why so-called cause-related marketing has taken off so fast, linking products to things people feel passionate about. In an age where products and services tend to converge in price and quality, values are what makes all the difference.

The second thing we can expect from the Gates and Buffet decisions is that many more business leaders who also feel the same kinds of desires to make the world a better place, are going to feel added courage to use the business itself as a positive driver of change. Why wait until they leave?

And they will know that the majority of their shareholders, staff and customers who also give time and money to things they feel passionate about, are likely to react positively to their leadership, with added commitment and loyalty, so long as the business is well run in every respect.

The third impact of the new Gates - Buffet alliance will be a gathering momentum for radical improvements in Africa, India and other such parts of the world. It will not be easy, but the pressure will grow further to find practical ways to make a difference.

Because of the way the markets devalue currencies of failing nations, as I have discovered in my own AIDS foundation ACET, a single dollar is enough to pay the school fees for an orphan for three weeks in a country like Zimbabwe. A million dollars is enough to hire 5,000 men or women for 3 months. It is hard to grasp the scale of opportunity when many billions of dollars can be converted into currency in some of the poorest nations (sensitively or else it will distort the local economy), in order to invest in a wide range of community-based, sustainable development projects.

And of course health is a basic requirement. The poorest nations continue to suffer needlessly from easily preventable illnesses and terrible handicaps like the loss of site at early ages.

The Bill Gates Foundation has already had significant impact on a wide range of such conditions and we can look forward to far more in the future.

June 26, 2006

Bill Gates to leave Microsoft - to run his foundation, and gets gift of $37bn from Warren Buffett

Billionaire Buffett to give away $37bn

· Largest donation in
US history goes to Gates fund
· Charity giveaway is 85% of 75-year-old's fortune

Source: The Guardian

“It is a gift of unprecedented proportions and will send shockwaves through the world of super-rich philanthropy. The world's second richest man, Warren Buffett, is to give the world's richest man, Bill Gates, the largest charitable gift in history - an estimated $37bn (£20bn). The 75-year-old doyen of the global investment community has pledged to give 85% of his stock in the investment company Berkshire Hathaway to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation started by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.”

Major news that will have a huge impact on global philanthropy. Expect many billions more to be released as others follow their example in a great effort to shape future history in the poorest nations and to help build a better world.

Almost every high net worth person I know has their own personal foundation or is about to set one up… all part of this same intense desire to make a difference in lasting ways.

June 25, 2006

Cost of divorce keeps more couples together

The quickest way to poverty can be to divorce.  Fewer couples are divorcing in the UK than 5 years – because of the cost, according to a report published in the Daily Telegraph in April 2006.


Numbers of marriages ending after less than 5 years in divorce has fallen by 25% since the early 1990s.  Meanwhile for the third year running, the number of marriages is up – to 311,180 – up 1% on the year before.  People are getting married later and are perhaps more thoughtful about it.

The fact is that divorce is usually a traumatic event for all and can be life-shattering for children as all the surveys show.

For more on research on divorce and impact on children see:




June 24, 2006

The Future of Nanotechnology - investment grows but nature has beaten the scientists with the world's first nanobots

I am often asked about nanotechnology: load of hype? Industrial miracle? Future threat to human health? The US government has been investing more than $1 billion per year and the EU, Japan, China and other countries are investing over $6 billion per year.

Nanotechnology is the understanding and control of matter at dimensions of roughly 1 to 100 nanometres. At this level of engineering we are beginning to see spectacular advances, particularly in surface coatings, but also in processes which could give a further massive step forward in making things smaller eg computer memory chips.

We can expect to see all kinds of domestic applications – for example fabrics which are better at repelling stains or can be cleaned in jets of compressed air, or new kinds of non-stick, easy to clean surfaces. We will see advances in lubricants and so on.

But when it comes to manufacturing tiny nanotech machines, the talk is far further ahead than the reality. We are not going to see nanobots made by humans anytime soon – except of course by imitating the powerful nanobots which nature makes.

As a physician as well as a futurist I am particularly interested in this – especially through my work with AIDS and the charity ACET – http://www.acet-international.org.

Viruses are essentially nanotech machines which are capable of being carried around around the body, so that they are then able to identify individual cells by their surface characteristics. Once the identification test is passed, the virus legs become firmly attached, and then bend, allowing a needle-like device to puncture the cell surface, injecting the core material of genetic code.

This is then activated automatically inside the cell, taking over command of the cell brain, and turning the cell into a factory of hundreds of millions more identical virus nanobots…

June 21, 2006

How sustainable is our future?

Talked today to 50 executives at Impact conference today on Corporate and Social Responsibility / sustainable enterprise.  Huge shift taking place inside the largest corporations about these issues and a growing recognition that they are important to consumers, shareholders and staff.  Here are some interesting statistics:


          Only 10% of big ocean fish remain

          Most global fishing is under threat

          25% of all mammals face extinction (by 2035 say UN)

          1 in 8 plant species face extinction

          CO2 levels are at their highest for a million years

          Even if all carbon emissions stop, sea levels will go on rising for 1000 years

          Stabilising CO2 at 450ppm will cost 1% of gross world product (level is 370 parts per million today)

          Continuing without change could cost 10% of gross world product

          In 1990 emerging nations produced 39% of the world’s carbon dioxide - by 2010 it will be 55%


See the presentation on http://www.globalchange.com/ppt4/sustain




June 20, 2006

Wikipedia finally tightens up access to some pages - eg Blair and Bush

<a href="http://observer.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,1800273,00.html">The Observer | UK News | Wikipedia fights off cyber vandals</a>


Well it had to happen eventually - it is now more difficult for anyone to go online and add offensive rubbish to people's biographies.


It is still extraordinary that 4 million pages could have been created in a way that anyone of a billion potential web users can alter at any time.

June 19, 2006

60% want to work after retirement age

I am interested by an HSBC survey of 20,000 adults around the world,
published in April 2006, which shows that 60% of all adults intend to work
after they have "retired", although many are hoping to work part-time. Most
people who retire say they are as busy after retirement than before. While
this may not be accurate, the fact is that total leisure becomes boring to
many people after a while. The majority of retired people in many countries
give time to organisations or others in the community, and when finances
are tight, they may look for modest financial reward to help things along.
20 of the survey said that they intended to carry on working in a paid
capacity to give them something meaningful to do. The survey shows that
people want to have a free choice about whether to work or not after a
certain age.

In any case "retirement age" is a last-century idea. In future in many
nations it will be a crime to discriminate on the basis of age, to force
someone out of a job simply because they are "too old", when they are fit
and able to do the job as well as anyone else.

We also need to face the fact that people are ageing less slowly than in
previous generations and may feel far more energetic at the age of 75 than
their parents were at 60.

Expect more people like my grandmother who worked part-time as a doctor
until she was 83 - not for money, but because she enjoyed it along with the
golf and bridge games she played most days.

June 18, 2006

New embryo gene screening will detect disease - ethical debate - news comment

I did an ITN 6pm news interview today on this story.

Medicine is developing faster than most people realise, raising many profound ethical challenges. This new IVF technique will allow in theory screening of a pre-implantation embryo for many thousands of different genes which have been linked to disease.

The same process could be used in future to allow selection on the basis of other characteristics such as inherited personality traits. Yes they exist. We have already found strong links between certain genes and extreme shyness, and it is well known that violent criminals are more likely to have specific genetic profiles than the general population. We also know there are genes which make addictive behaviour more likely.

Here are some interesting gene links:

FOXP2 gene is vital to language and speech development
17CREB genes are all needed for learning and memory.

Vasopressin receptor gene on chromosme 12 – huge effect on mating and pair binding in prairie voles.

Low monoamine oxidase A activity on X chromosome strongly linked to violent, antisocial or criminal behaviour.

Gene for obesity: 6% have MC4R gene.

Gene linked to serotonin production strongly linked to depression. CREB1 carries 80% risk of depression – in women.

So.... I am concerned about the kind of society we could see in the future, since screening of the unborn already happens on a millions a year scale with terribly destructive results - hunting out and destroying female fetuses in India and to a smaller extent in China. We know that many parents like controlling the characteristics of future children, and will pay to do so.

However as a reality check, the new technique announced today will only work with IVF which is a very inneficient and expensive way to produce babies and the application is likely to be only a search for major genetic abnormalities.

Embryo test cuts disease risk: "Thousands of women at risk of giving birth to sick children could be offered hope from a new technique to ensure their babies are free of genetic disorders.
It can screen out the genes for common disorders such as cystic fibrosis which is carried by 1-in-25 Britons and affects over 7,000 children.
So far the test has been used on seven women, five of whom are now pregnant.
The procedure is being hailed as a big advance and will lead to a radical shift in the way couples at risk of passing on certain diseases are treated."

May 02, 2006

Growth of churches in London

I went with some of my family to visit Hillsong church in London recently – which has grown from nothing to over 6000 people in less than 6 years, meeting at the Dominian Theatre.  They have three meetings packed full of young adults, many of which are from Australia.  Part of a new phenomenon.  Hillsong has just started another new church in Paris and has a base in Sydney.

May 01, 2006

Futurists and risk management

Much of futuring and the work of a futurist is about risk management: advising boards and senior teams as part of their own due diligence.  This could be helping anticipate competitor behaviour, understanding consumer trends, or preparing for possible wild cards (low probability, high impact risks).


Every successful organisation and business leader is deeply involved in future thinking, and every innovation is a response to it, or help shapes it.

April 30, 2006

Becoming carbon neutral - buying carbon credits

Our family and my business Global Change Ltd have just taken a big step to become carbon neutral. We calculated the total amount of carbon we will use this year including all my business travel lecturing on global trends (a staggering 80 tons of carbon on air travel to conferences and corporate events). We have invested in a hydroelectric scheme outside the UK which would not otherwise be viable. By joining up with other organisations we have enabled the project to start generating electricity which will directly reduce local use of coal and gas, offsetting the carbon we will produce this year.

It is not the answer to global warming but is a small step which if replicated by every business and every household would make a big difference, balanced by other measures for energy efficiency.

April 29, 2006

Cancer from electromagnetic radiation? Power lines and children

The UK government announced yesterday that no more homes should be built near high voltage overhead power cables, following a report suggesting that the risk of leukaemia in children is significantly greater amongst those living under or near power lines.

If it is true - uncertain still - then the mechanism remains unknown. While it could be a direct effect of electromagnetic radiation, it could also be linked to ionisation of molecules in the air around the cables.

Expect more research into this - as well as more studies into whether mobile phone radiation, or mobile phone masts also cause health risks in humans. Some studies already show quite convincing effects on living tissue and on other animals when subjected to high radiation levels for long periods. However the risk to humans is probably very small.

April 26, 2006

New UK threat to traditional telecom companies

Phone users in the UK will soon be able to make on-the-move calls over the Web, posing a new threat to mobile phone companies.  The internet phone corporation Vonage and WiFi hotspot operator The Cloud will launch a new service allowing Vonage subscribers with special WFi mobile handsets to make calls at landline rates from any of The Clouds hotspots in Britain.  Meanwhile Skype now has 100 million active users, all able to phone each other for free, with new companies offering Skype add ons such as instant teleconferencing for up to 500 people.  It all means further headaches for traditional telecom companies who are struggling already to catch up with what consumers are doing, and is part of a rapidly changing landscape for communications.

Expect ordinary telecom call costs to continue to fall towards zero, with further pressure on prices of premium services such as video over mobile.


April 25, 2006

BP oil profits up - beyond petroleum?

BBC NEWS | Business | Oil boom helps BP beat forecasts

BP is leading the way for many other oil companies with the slogan "Beyond Petroleum", which is a summary of a firm commitment to develop alternative energy sources. However, environmental and safety issues remain a challenge as well as continued dependence on oil for most revenue generation.

April 24, 2006

Blogging takes another small step forward

If you can read this post, it shows that blogging has taken another step forward in control of cyberspace.  Over 200 million blogger create postings at least once a week, but almost all go to a web page to do so.  This posting was created with a simple e-mail which makes posting faster and quicker.  It also means that the contents of e-mails can easily be forwarded to the entire online community.


On the delivery side, the number of blog postings which are automatically sent out using e-mail distribution lists or news feeds is also growing fast.


April 23, 2006

200 million people now have a personal blog or web diary

There are now estimated to be more than 200 million personal web diaries or blogs online. Their content is now shaping opinion, making and braking brands.

Many people believe comments about - say - a hotel in a blog far more readily than they believe an official corporate site.

Question: which do you trust more? Online adverts on a search engine, or a community website? My own informal polls of senior executives around the world suggests that unnoficial community sites win almost every time.

It spells the death of traditional advertising and brand management.

If the blogs come up high in the search engines and contain a lot of negative comment about your product, no amount of web advertising is going to help you.

That's why some companies are now employing people to post positive comments about their products and services on bulletin boards, blogs and other community sites, disguising the fact that their agenda is a paid promotion campaign.

It is building up to be a serious issue - and one hafrdly understood by most large corporation leaders.

A prime example is the leisure, travel and hotel industry - just type in the name of a large hotel into Google and see how far down you need to look before you hit a site like www.traveladvisor.com.

April 22, 2006

Future of Marketing

Future of Marketing

You can find many presentations on marketing including videos on a wide range of related issues on http://www.globalchange.com/ppt/index.htm

Teenagers getting fatter in spite of health drive - Britain - Times Online

Obesity will be a major problem in future not only in wealthy nations, but also in emerging economies among the increasingly affluent.

One third of babies born today in the United States will develop diabetes during their lives as a direct result of being overweight, and obesity is estimated already to cost the US health care system many billions of dollars a year, plus lost productivity to the economy.

Expect to see many innovative approaches by pharmacuetical companies in addition to other control measures by governments such as additional regulations on marketing junk food to children.

Creative solutions could include developing new drugs which are similar to thyroxine. One such compound causes monkeys to lose a significant amount of their body weight on a normal diet in just a couple of weeks, without the normal toxic effects that one might expect on the heart.

April 21, 2006

Analysts tip oil will push beyond current record - Business - Business

Analysts tip oil will push beyond current record - Business - Business

Some time ago many people predicted that global economic growth would slow significantly if oil prices rose as high as $50 to $60 - and yet little has happened.

Now some are warning of dire consequencies if the oil price were to rise to $100 a barrel.

The fact is that when we allow for inflation, oil is still cheaper than it was at the height of the oil crisis in the 1970s - 30 years ago.

The oil price per barrel would need to be around $90 to equal the real cost then, but other things have changed. In the 1970s many nations had far higher rates of inflation. Today, globalisation and the digital age have resulted in falling prices across a wide range of goods, and have also reduced the costs of many services like banking.

It could be argued that recent oil prices as low as $15 a barrel were highly undesirable for the sustainable future of the earth, encouraging energy waste and making it impossible to develop profitable alternative energy sources.

From that point of view we should welcome higher oil prices, which are already helping stimulate huge new investment into solar, wind, tide, hydroelectric and other generation methods, while also encouraging fresh efforts in energy conservation.

Higher oil prices suck vast amounts of cash out of oil-poor countries into the hands of oil producers, and this is already finding its way quite rapidly back into other economies. Just look for example at the amount of Middle East wealth that is flowing into the real estate markets in Europe, particularly the UK.

There are a large number of new business opportunities that arise from these wealth movements, and of course from energy conservation / alternative power generation.

April 20, 2006

Human nature - better than we sometimes think?

Comment on the power indviduals have to create damage and chaos - yet how few do so... how most people are responsible, law abiding citizens who respect those around them:

Yes you are right about the asymmetry of antisocial acts in terms of effort for impact - and this has always been a problem for society eg the tiny effort needed to commit arson, or to daub graffiti on walls, or to deliberately drive a car into a bus queue. Yet the strange thing is how rarely these acts happen, and how powerful is the social pressure on people to "behave" in a way that respects community.

The same with theft. It amazes me how few people carrying laptops in their bags, or using them on tube trains, are mugged for what is a very valuable item....

The vast majority of people in every country most of the time act in ways that enhance community.

Most people give time to community causes they believe in, and so on...

Yes the problems of society are huge and growing and the answers are complex, but the innate creativity of human beings and their passion for change should also not be underestimated.

It is indeed the reason why suicide bombers blow themselves up, in a
(misguided) ultruistic belief that the world will be a better place as a result of their "self sacrifice".

The other noteworthy thing is how resilient society is to major shocks.

Take London in the second world war when one in 4 of all homes were rendered unusable because of random rocket attacks. The result? Life went on. That's why we know that a few suicide bombers in London, even if more arrive, cannot possibly alter daily life in a major way. Actually we have lived with terrorism (IRA) in the UK for several decades.

You see the same in war-torn regions of Africa... in the midst of instability and troubles, daily existence for most people usually continues relatively unchanged (compared to what some might imagine).

February 08, 2006

Deadly bird flu found in Nigeria

It was almost inevitable that bird flu would hit Africa. Containing spread in this continent will be a near impossible task since many countries are very poor with little or no infrastructure to monitor outbreaks, educate people about what to do, or to remunerate them for slaughtering their birds.

January 12, 2006

WHO Tries to Calm Bird Flu Fears After Turkey Outbreak - CME Teaching Brief - MedPage Today

WHO Tries to Calm Bird Flu Fears After Turkey Outbreak - CME Teaching Brief - MedPage Today

The greatest immediate risk is that bird flu will spread into parts of Africa where there is extensive human - bird contact, and very few resources for tracking and elimination of infected birds. This will greatly increase the risk of a human mutation which could result in very rapid spread across human populations.