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."