Redefining CSR (Part 2): A Red-Branded PC Doesn't Cut It

In his call for a "new kind of capitalism that would benefit the poor as well as the rich", Bill Gates announced last week that Microsoft has teamed with Dell to sell a Red-branded PC.

If you've been living on another planet for the past year, the Product (Red) brand is Bono's initiative that includes products sold by a number of companies that give a share of the revenue to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. According to Gates, Red has generated $50 million for the fund in the past year and a half, which has generated life saving drugs for nearly 2 million people in Africa.

A resounding "yeah" goes to Gates' call for "creative capitalism" where "business must work with governments and nonprofit groups to stem poverty and spur more technological innovation." And cheers to Bono for raising awareness of the dire needs in Africa.

But a resounding "thanks but no thanks, Bill and Mike," goes to the Red-Branded PC. As we have noted in a prior post, $50 million in royalties from America's consumers is a drop in the bucket compared to the potential impact of Microsoft and Dell finding a way to produce a laptop (hardware and software) that can affordably be put in the hands of every deserving student in this country (and others).

A Red-Branded PC is creative philanthropy and, frankly, we've got plenty of that with social venture partners and social investment funds and the like. While creative philanthropy is engaging and innovative and we're all for it, it is not scaleable.

Creative capitalism should be powered by the new CSR where companies put market forces behind socially innovative products and services. Only at this scale will the core marketplace dynamics for resources for those most in need be changed.

My biggest hope for Bill Gates' upcoming career change is that it won't be much of a change. I hope that one of the greatest capitalists in the world will harness market forces at the product and services level in his creative capitalism, as he has done with vaccines and small high schools, and let others dabble with creative philanthropy.

Carla E. Dearing

Posted at 1:00 AM, Feb 04, 2008 in Cross-Sectoral Strategies | Economic Development | Global Philanthropy | Philanthropic Strategy | Scaling Philanthropy | Permalink | Comments (2)


Are you suggesting that the (red) PC be more like OLPC? Or is it more that Gates et al should be teaming up with folks like Nicholas Negroponte to make OLPC a realistic tool for students across the world to help them learn?

Posted by: Daniel Schutzsmith

Not like OLPC, as per this prior post:

I'm having trouble accepting that there is not a lower end Dell or Compaq laptop that cannot be adapted, loaded with Microsoft products from TechSoup and sold wholesale for $200 to schools and colleges across this country. My friends in the sector assure me there is no such thing. I'd love to know if that's changing.

Posted by: Anonymous