From issue: Corporate Social Responsibility (Winter 2008)
Microsoft's founder argues that the principles of innovation can be applied to corporate citizenship, and offers up a few of the company's new ideas for expanding access to technology in Latin America.
Looking back over the last 30 years, there’s no question that technology has created an unprecedented wave of innovation, economic growth and social opportunity. Yet, technology in itself is not a cure-all for any nation’s social ills, or a guarantee of economic prosperity. To build and sustain healthy communities, nations must address basic human needs—such as nutrition, healthcare, education, and housing—while pursuing sound economic and regulatory policies.
I have seen firsthand, however, how software can enable and augment socioeconomic development. The key is that the use of software and computers must be integrated with broader efforts to promote individual opportunity and business innovation, such as through investments in infrastructure, education and workforce training, and through policymaking that encourages open markets and protects intellectual property.
My family’s foundation—the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation—is working to address major challenges in areas such as education, agricultural development and global health. The foundation’s work is driven by a belief that to whom much is given, much is expected. Although the foundation operates completely apart from Microsoft, I think it’s fair to say that the company’s leaders and employees share this perspective. Interestingly, there are also certain similarities in the principles that the foundation and Microsoft use in making investments in underserved communities. Both seek to identify crucial issues that have been overlooked or neglected by others. Both make long-term investments in projects capable of making a substantial, lasting impact. And both extend the value of these investments through strong partnerships with governments and other private-sector organizations
I believe that Microsoft, like many other companies, can make the greatest contribution to society when our citizenship efforts are closely aligned with our business strategy. This makes the best use of our expertise, which is creating innovative software. It also speaks to the long-term vision we have had since the founding of the company: to democratize technology and spread its benefits as widely as possible. For many people living in the developed world, that vision is now a reality. But there are five billion other people who, due to geographic, cultural and economic circumstances, have not been able to take advantage of the social and economic benefits that information technology has to offer…