Economy of Abundance: The Technophilanthropists

by Jamie Moran on June 20, 2013

Jamie Moran · Creativity in Business · June 20, 2013

This is the final post in a series of four based on Peter Diamandis’ New York Times Bestselling book, Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think.

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I recently wrote about the “gold rush” of abundant and exponential technology in a New Wild West drawing a rush of inventions in spaceflight, nanotechnology and alternative energy. Every frontier story needs its characters and in this new frontier, it’s important to look at the cowboys, the technophilantropists.

Technophilanthropy

Philanthropy, of course, is not new – from ancient rulers to Renaissance bankers to wealthy families such as the Rockefellers, Carnegies and Vanderbilts at the turn of the 20th century and even modern technocrats such as Bill Gates, philanthropic activities of some sort have all been a way for the wealthy to leverage their fortunes for renown through the arts or charity.

What separates “robber barons” of the 19th century from today’s breed of philanthropist is the breadth of vision. Charities in the early 1900s that might have involved donating large sums of money to far-off areas like Africa or India didn’t provide the immediate satisfaction that say, donating a new center for the arts in midtown New York had. Philanthropists such as Andrew Carnegie gave back to their communities and helped build up those that would further enhance their business interests. This modality of charity has continued through the 20th century. But a new mentality is quickly replacing it.

Technophilanthropy is one of the most exciting aspects of this current “We” generation. It embraces technology and communication, with a focus on solving problems and helping communities thrive. Or, as Peter Diamandis writes in Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think, a techno-philanthropist can be “a young, idealistic iPad jet setter who cares about the world – the whole world – in a new way.” Charity doesn’t have to be thought of as a tax write-off, and giving to the community that is supporting you is not the only community that matters. Good business decisions can be made in tandem with charity, and indeed this has become a component of the business strategies of organizations incorporating triple-bottom line ideals.

Here are just a handful of current techno-philanthropists who are making waves in the world through their adoption of these triple bottom line principles which, interestingly enough, are not only helping millions of people across the world (who are not necessarily part of their target market), but are actually helping the bottom line of their for-profit and not-for profit business entities:

Jeff Skoll

“There’s a different mentality now because the world is much more globally connected. In the past, things that happened in Africa or China, you didn’t really know about. Today you know about them instantly. Our problems are much more interrelated as well. Everything from climate change to pandemics have roots in different parts of the world, but they affect everybody. In this way, global has become the new local.”

Jeff Skoll, whom I’ve just quoted, is the pioneer behind eBay who sold his share for $2 billion, took on the challenges he describes as affecting everybody, and started the Skoll Foundation, which “benefits communities around the world by investing in, connecting and celebrating social entrepreneurs.”

Using the mindset of triple bottom line with successful Internet business principles, the Skoll Foundation takes the concept of teaching a man to fish even further. In an article for the Huffington Post, Skoll explains, “Charities may give people food. But social entrepreneurs don’t just teach people to grow food — they’re not happy until they’ve taught a farmer how to grow food, make money, pour the profits back into the business, hire 10 other people and, in the process, transform the entire industry.”

Elon Musk

Not all technophilanthropy is charity. You can make long strides in saving the world and turn a profit at the same time. Elon Musk is the genius behind Paypal, SpaceX, Tesla Motors and SolarCity. He is also, fittingly, the inspiration behind Jon Favreau’s film depiction of Tony Stark in the Iron Man movies. [Time Magazine]

Musk has degrees in economics and physics under his belt and after making his fortune in PayPal by getting bought out by eBay he founded SpaceX with a goal of advancing the state of rocket technology. Behind this is an even more audacious goal, however: “Musk views space exploration as an important step in expanding — if not preserving — the consciousness of human life.” [Wikipedia – Elon Musk]

If all he had done was found SpaceX because of his concern over the human species’ inability to think about its long-term self-preservation, that would be one thing. But a more pressing contemporary problem is our consumption of oil. The biggest contributor to this quandary is the internal combustion engine. So Musk also founded Tesla Motors, the first large-scale electric car company, which aims to deliver affordable electric vehicles to mass-market consumers. Tesla is also laying the groundwork for other automotive manufacturers to get on board with the concept.

Electric cars still need to be powered by something, right? Well he ALSO founded SolarCity, the largest provider of solar-powered systems in the United States. In 2012, Musk announced that SolarCity and Tesla Motors would be collaborating to use electric vehicle batteries to smooth the impact of rooftop solar on the power grid. [Wikipedia – Elon Musk]

Peter Diamandis

The inspiration for this series of blog posts, Peter Diamandis, has effectively defined a new generation of adventurers in the realm of possibility that exponential technology allows. His book “Abundance” paints a picture of the future that, despite fear-mongering predictions from so many, is full of hope, wonder and spaceflight.

Diamandis was responsible for instituting the X Prize Foundation, which has raised millions of dollars to fund projects to advance humankind. He started, along with Ray Kurzweil, Singularity University, a non-profit learning institution in Silicon Valley with a goal to “educate, inspire and empower leaders to apply exponential technologies to address humanity’s grand challenges.” He is a co-founder of Planetary Resources, along with Larry Page, Eric Schmidt, James Cameron, among others, which aims to “expand Earth’s natural resource base” by developing and deploying the technologies for asteroid mining. [Wikipedia – Planetary Resources] 

In a recent podcast with celebrity astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Diamandis was compared to a James Bond Villain due to his multiple extravagant futuristic scientific endeavors. If Diamandis represents a super villain for this “We” Generation, I think we’re going to be all right.

Abundance: The Future Is Brighter Than You ThinkGet a copy of Peter’s and his co-author Stephen Kotler’s book Abundance free until June 28, 2013.

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