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A new framework for altruistic action 21 décembre 2006

Par Thierry Klein dans : Entreprise altruiste.
Lu 54 441 fois | trackback

(An english version of one of my november posts about « altruistic action »).

Until the early eighties, there were only two ways to commit to a humanitarian cause: fund it as a private donor or work as benevolent in a non-profit association.

Two major events have happened since them – both of them in the IT area, which is everything but a coincidence.

1.the Open Source trend

  In 1984, Richard Stallmann invented the Open Source movement to develop free circulation of knowledge and software (as an opposition to strategies developed by private corporations such as Microsoft), to make collaboration between developers possible and to make the results of their work freely available for all. I personally objected in a post that these goals do lack ambition since, in the absence of any higher-level ideal, freedom of circulation and zero software cost per se are just empty concepts. However, many readers came back to me mentioning the enormous impact that Open Source has had: it has been – and still is – the main building building block for the Internet.

2.Bill Gates’ story

  Bill Gates has just created a 30 billion dollars foundation to become the most important private donor ever. The financial potential of Gates’ foundation today is much higher to that of France. Structurally, Gates’ foundation is just another private enterprise, but at a magnitude that has never been approached before. Bill Gates has invested a significant part of his wealth and through the stock financial game, this wealth is the sum of Microsoft financial results over 25 years – quite a leverage.

So, in the Open Source movement, you benefit from all the power and dynamics coming from collaborative action, Internet, globalization – all those phenomena will structure this century for the better or worse. Open Source projects just anticipate what future collective actions will be, whether profit or non profit. Some private corporations – like Speechi – are already built from the collaboration of people who work together but who almost never see each other and live in different continents.

Bill Gates action is a symbol of how powerful information technologies have become but its form is just not as original – almost « has-been » in fact. Bill gates has brought an enormous amount of financial fuel, but, at the best, this is just going to be another private humanitarian foundation – at the worst, this could be the whim of a tycoon. In any case, it won’t change the world.

If you really do want the people of this century to work together towards a truly beneficial goal, to save human kind and everything that goes with it such as animal species and nature, you should propose them something that is « similar » to Open Source, i.e actions that are collaborative and altruisitc by nature.

At the same time, one should understand that controling the most devastating effects brought by the globalization process (whether it’s complete ressource destruction or just inevitable war) will never be possible without any kind of financial power. Economic interests are just too big and you need money to counterbalance the effects of money, whether they are economical, political or industrial. You will not stop oil, ocean, forest, animal, human over-exploitations with just a lot of good will and pocket money.

A new framework for humanitarian enterprise.

My idea is to « reverse-engineer » the « Bill gates » process. To create companies whose primary goal, from the start, will be to act for a given cause. (In the rest of this post, I will just name this cause « the planet », because that’s the one I am the most interested in, but please consider that all typical « non-profit », altruistic causes are eligible). Those companies will just be normal corporations in the business and legal sense. They will have to be profitable, efficient, etc…

The real change will be that a significant part of their capital (at least 20% (1)) should « belong » to « the planet ». Also, they use voluntary collaborative work much more than « normal » companies. By nature, they primarly act in the IT area because this is where the collaborative forces that pull the world today are the most active. This is also the area where you can best create financial value – cf Microsoft example.

Not only do they benefit from the positive effects of collaborative action (their employees, whether paid or voluntary and their customers do know that a common altruistic goal flocks them together) but their « corporate » status gives them access to all financial tools that are needed to really exist and enjoy leverage in a modern, globalized world (venture capital, stock market, etc…). There will be no more clear split between the « non-profit » altruistic world and the economical world. In fact, the altruistic world just sneaks in the economical sphere, so it can really influence it.

Today, millions of people just wonder what they can do, how they can act. In most cases, they can’t do anything. You need a lot of personal ressources and means to commit full time to a humanitarian cause. Altruisitic ventures would give people a « normal » job with a real mission (which is very different from a company’s traditional mission statement).

(You would not see empty company’s mission statements anymore such as « Our mission is to make our customers satisfied by developing the best tomato plantation management software for alkalin environments » or « We work to make people and businesses throughout the world realize their best potential. Everything we do reflects this mission and the values that make this possible » (2) . You would rather see statements such as « We aim at saving the planet. We are experts in tomato plantation management software and we have decided to use our skills for the ultimate benefit of our mission ». Don’t you think this would be quite a change ?)

Altruistic companies have nothing in common with so called « ethic funds » or « ethic companies ». Ethic funds may impose some kind of ethic « diligence » on the companies they own – or sometimes may not, since their utimate mission remains making money – but they have no altruistic action « per se » and one may even wonder, in some cases, if the ethic character of the fund is not the ultimate marketing tool to attract investments or customers. Actually, the same is very true for many « altruistic » initiatives sponsored by private companies. In France, most large companies in the energy sector heavily sponsor campains for a cleaner planet. This new form of venture will be a success when powerful altruistic causes actually own shares of companies like Texaco, L’Oreal or Dupont.

All this may sound a bit abstract but in fact, as a fist step, I have my own company, Speechi in mind. Speechi is now three years old and has been really booming in the last 6 months. There are 2 possible ways to develop it further in 2007: venture capital or this new form of « altruistic venture ».

The more I think about it, the more I have the impression that the « altruistic » form has many advantages over venture capital. It’s more positively oriented, more dynamic. It’s easier to attract competencies, to preserve passion and, above all, it does have a meaning. All those things money can’t buy. Speechi could very well go higher and further. And my work would be more useful.

It’s not hard, I just have to give some capital to the planet.

What do you think ?

(1)Please don’t ask me why this number.

(2)Guess where I found this one ?

Billets associés :


1. Sophie - 27 décembre 2006

Je viens de lire dans les grandes lignes et je trouve ton discours très inspiré,le genre de reflexions que j’aimerai lire ou entendre plus souvent sur les ondes,dans la bouche des politiciens…
Comment as tu concrètement appliqué cette dimension à ton entreprise que tu cites?…
Comment peux tu faire connaitre ce concept plus largement ?
"Venture capital or altruistic venture",let’s open the debate on a dedicated blog !
A like-minded girl,

2. Thierry - 2 janvier 2007

Mon absence de modestie naturelle fait que je suis 100% d’accord avec toi.
J’essaie de structurer un peu tout ça en ce moment. J’espère que des choses vont sortir en février ou mars, d’ici là, on reste sur ce blog à moins que tu ne veuilles créer qque chose ?
Et je reste preneur de toute idée…

3. nicolas - 16 février 2007

Bonjour cher conpatriote,
Je m’airiez savoir si c;est vous monsieur Bill gates par ceque je besoin de vous parlez et je m’appel Nicolas

4. Sae - 10 décembre 2007

bonjour, meci pour ce billet interessant (comme souvent !) ; heureusement que tun as precise :b’as an opposition to strategies developed by private corporations such as microsoft’ 🙂 on aurait eu du mal a saisir l’essebntiel 🙂

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7. Elbee Jackson - 30 janvier 2012

I feel that you are in error when you state that the world cannot be changed by « good will and pocket money ». I live in Detroit,Mi. a city short on both. Affordable clean housing, decent city services, incorruptible officials, even a living wage is hard to come by. Most folks without employment, get by on scrap metal or other less than savory efforts. I for a while have advocated recycling homes to save neighborhoods. Making Detroit the buckle of a new green belt. Unfortunately I am one of the few to believe this. Apparently the something for nothing culture developed here is a force. The best interest must be tangible, incorruptible, but flexible. Folks need a stepping stone up not a permanent landing. I know where you are, come see what I mean.