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Sir Richard Branson, from business leader to follower

"The purpose of life is to bring forth goodness. Now, In this life" - Leo Tolstoy

The first inkling of being followed came at Davos 2009, when he spoke at the Ukrainian Lunch saying business should focus more on social problems:

"Business must achieve its goal - making profit. But at the same time it should increasingly focus on solving social problems."

"Capitalism is the only economic system that really works", he underlined, saying that "the downside of the capitalist system is accumulation of great wealth in hands of relatively small number of people. "

"A modern company should focus not only on making money, but also on solving social problems and investing in protection of environment."

This was a familiar argument .  P-CED had begun in 1997 with a white paper which concluded:

'It is only when wealth begins to concentrate in the hands of a relative few at the expense of billions of others who are denied even a small share of finite wealth that trouble starts and physical, human suffering begins. It does not have to be this way. Massive greed and consequent massive human misery and suffering do not have to be accepted as a givens, unavoidable, intractable, irresolvable. Just changing the way business is done, if only by a few companies, can change the flow of wealth, ease and eliminate poverty, and leave us all with something better to worry about. Basic human needs such as food and shelter are fundamental human rights; there are more than enough resources available to go around--if we can just figure out how to share. It cannot be "Me first, mine first"; rather, "Me, too" is more the order of the day.'

It was the publication of a 'Marshall Plan' for Ukraine in 2007 which made this assertion about profit:  

"An inherent assumption about capitalism is that profit is defined only in terms of monetary gain. This assumption is virtually unquestioned in most of the world. However, it is not a valid assumption. Business enterprise, capitalism, must be measured in terms of monetary profit. That rule is not arguable. A business enterprise must make monetary profit, or it will merely cease to exist. That is an absolute requirement. But it does not follow that this must necessarily be the final bottom line and the sole aim of the enterprise. How this profit is used is another question. It is commonly assumed that profit will enrich enterprise owners and investors, which in turn gives them incentive to participate financially in the enterprise to start with.

That, however, is not the only possible outcome for use of profits. Profits can be directly applied to help resolve a broad range of social problems: poverty relief, improving childcare, seeding scientific research for nationwide economic advancement, improving communications infrastructure and accessibility, for examples – the target objectives of this particular project plan. The same financial discipline required of any conventional for-profit business can be applied to projects with the primary aim of improving socioeconomic conditions. Profitability provides money needed to be self-sustaining for the purpose of achieving social and economic objectives such as benefit of a nation’s poorest, neediest people. In which case, the enterprise is a social enterprise.'

I wrote to Virgin Unite soon after Davos, describing our efforts:

"This is what we’ve been doing in Ukraine for 7 years to reach the point that our efforts have persuaded government to adopt changes to childcare policy. We’re a small business rendering 100% profit to do something about the plight of orphans and street children in Ukraine."

"If the Ukraine lunch speech was an indication of intent to apply this in Ukraine, then we’re able to show the way."

7 years eariler, we'd committed to be the change, as this 2004 interview about preceding efforts in Russia and Crinea revealed. We were "a company limited by guarantee for the purpose of socially beneficial enterprise."

"The problem is that profit and money still tend to accumulate in the hands of comparatively few people. Money, symbolically representing wealth and ownership of material assets, is not an infinite resource. When it accumulates in enormous quantities in the hands of a few people, that means other people are going to be denied. If everyone in the world has enough to live a decent life and not in poverty, then there is no great problem with some people having far more than they need. But, that's not the case, and there are no rules in the previous capitalist system to fix that. Profit and numbers have no conscience, and anything done in their name has been accepted as an unavoidable aspect of capitalism.

I disagree. In 1996, I simply set up a hypothetical 'what if' proposition. What if some businesses decided to change their practices, or institute themselves as new enterprises completely, for the sole purpose of generating massive profits as usual and then using those profits to help people who have little or nothing? That's the way to correct and improve classic capitalism for the broadest benefit worldwide. It's now called social capitalism, or, social enterprise. I still call it the same as I did in 1996: people-centered economic development, and that remains the name of my organization and my web site."


The primary purpose of our work in Ukraine was the issue of childcare reform. In 2006, it was our founder Terry Hallman who raised the lid on 'Death  Camps. For Children' sketching out a plan for placing all in loving family homes, in full public view

It wasn't popular, especially with NGOs who'd been coopted into silence through fear of both physical harm and losing their donors.     

This purpose was  emphasised in the 'Marshall Plan'

"The most urgent component of the project below is relief and modern medical treatment for tens of thousands of Ukraine's children diagnosed as psychoneurologically handicapped. Many have died in state care, in primitive and inhumane conditions. Many are misdiagnosed, and end up in atrocious conditions. Following intense publicity and public discussion of the issue during final preparation of this project, Ukraine's government agreed on 5 March, 2007 to open more than 400 new treatment facilities for these children all over Ukraine. That commitment from Ukraine’s government was a major step forward, clearly demonstrating Ukraine’s willingness and ability to take initiative in childcare reform first and foremost. "

The hostility from the social enterprise community was difficult to understand.  The chair of the social enterprise APPG having ignored the letter I wrote in 2005. the Social Enterprise Coaltion saying our work was outside their focus, with one representative even drawing attention to the hostility we'd attracted online, 


I took the argument to Mixmarket and their Long Term Capitalism intiative, where I published Re-imagining capitalism, the new bottom line'

"The new bottom line is people"

It proved to be very popular. Just weeks later, we heard from Paul Polman of Unilver, writing for Huffington Post on where our 'Moral Compass meets the bottom line'

"When people talk about new forms of capitalism, this is what I have in mind: companies that show, in all transparency, that they are contributing to society, now and for many generations to come. Not taking from it.

It is nothing less than a new business model. One that focuses on the long term. One that sees business as part of society, not separate from it. One where companies seek to address the big social and environmental issues that threaten social stability. One where the needs of citizens and communities carry the same weight as the demands of shareholders."

More recently he has said

“Profit is not a purpose, it’s an end product. I always want a deeper result. People assume that if you do something good, it must cost money. I don’t know where they get that idea from,” he said, adding that business leaders “don’t need to compromise”.

That this should appear in Huffington Post has relevance too. In 2012 I took part in a  Skoll discussion on Cultivating Empathy, where I related our work to Arianna Huffington

Paul Polman and Arianna Huffington are members of Branson's B Team:

Last year for Linkedin I asked the  question '' using the 1996 paper to illustrate that the purpose is people. 

"At first glance, it might seem redundant to emphasize people as the central focus of economics. After all, isn't the purpose of economics, as well as business, people? Aren't people automatically the central focus of business and economic activities? Yes and no.

People certainly gain and benefit, but the rub is: which people? More than a billion children, women, and men on this planet suffer from hunger. It is a travesty that this is the case, a blight upon us all as a global social group. Perhaps an even greater travesty is that it does not have to be this way; the problems of human suffering on such a massive scale are not unsolvable. If a few businesses were conducted only slightly differently, much of the misery and suffering as we now know it could be eliminated. This is where the concept of a "people-centered" economics system comes in."


Today Sir Richard and the B team tell us how to manifest purpose in business

This stood out "Almost 50 years later, our newest investment in OneWeb is also very much a Purpose-driven business, looking to create the world’s largest constellation of satellites to bring connectivity and communications to billions who don't have access to the web."

It was the very thing we described in the 2004 business plan which proposed a network of community benefit societies, using satellite broadband revenue to deliver investment funds to CDFIs.

This revenue generating broadband strategy was also described in the 'Marshall Plan'

"We see a staggering array of social problems arising directly from poverty, including but not limited to tens of thousands of children in orphanages or other state care; crime; disrespect for civil government because government cannot be felt or seen as civil for anyone left to suffer in poverty; young people prostituting themselves on the street; drug abuse to alleviate the aches and pains of the suffering that arises from poverty and misery; HIV/AIDS spreading like a plague amidst prostitution, unprotected sex, and drug abuse; more children being born into this mix and ending up in state care at further cost to the state; criminals coming from poverty backgrounds, ending up as bandits, returning to communities after prison, with few options except further criminal activity. These are all part and parcel of the vicious negative cycle of poverty, and this threatens to destroy Ukraine, if Ukraine is defined in terms of people rather than mere geographic boundaries. Overall, population is steadily declining; families have not sufficient confidence in tomorrow to reproduce more than 1.2 children on average per couple.

At the very same time, there are excellent minds and people all over the country struggling to alleviate these problems. The communication infrastructure that can most effectively and quickly facilitate these efforts does not exist. Nor are there any serious plans for it. Draconian barriers stand in the way of progress. In Ukraine, people can be fined or jailed for operating simple wi-fi devices, which are common and unlicenced in all democracies and developed nations. In Ukraine, a license to operate a simple wi-fi device is required. Licenses are costly and almost impossible to get through a central-controlled Ministry. These devices hold the promise of rapid, community-wide high-speed Internet deployment from a single point of access, the cost of which can be shared equally among each user.

The point here is to illustrate what is – and more importantly what is not – going on in Ukraine to remove a massive information deficiency and bottleneck. It is possible, and financially feasible, to provide high-speed Internet for an investment of $100 million per 125,000 subscribers at $30 per month per subscriber. This can be done without traffic limit, which is the main price barrier in the few existing high-speed services that now exist. Three gigabytes per month, common usage in the US and Europe, usually costs around $150 per month in Ukraine (in the few locations where it is available at all) compared to $50 or less in Europe, the US, and east Asia. This is far beyond affordable for most Ukrainians and, indeed, for most users in other regions of the world where per capita income is much higher. The price target in Ukraine is $30 per month with unlimited traffic, and there is nothing near that cost in most of Ukraine at this time.

In that this service is desperately needed and is practically non-existent in Ukraine, market economics dictate that it is only a matter of time until the required price target is first understood, and then hit. However, market manipulation exists to delay that outcome as long as possible.

Investment of $100 million will service 125,000 users and produce a net profit of at least $20 million per year. One billion dollars investment will service 1.25 million users and return $200 million per year.

Inevitably, a significant amount of money and profit will be generated by those who get to market first at the $30 per month price target. This can be done.

In that case, there is no reason why a business enterprise cannot be set up to fulfill this critical market need – and steer profits in full to support equally critical social needs such as the transition phase of childcare reform, and providing eternal funding for other social benefits."

The threat to Ukraine manifested in 2014 when a a violent uprsing took to the street. At Davos, once again the same people including Sir Richard debating how capitalism could deliver both financial and social returns: 

At 29 minutes you will hear Tony Blair ask Sir Richard whether "the B Team concept", the argument for business being about more the narrow definition of profit ( as found in the Marshall Plan' and our earlier work) has been gaining traction. 



Now the B Team are offering to help create a peaceful solution to the crisis.

When our late founder was interviewed by ForUA in 2006, he was asked whether he thought he could bring change:

"- I still believe I can provide means for common people in Ukraine to change their own lives. I can’t do it for them, but I can help reorganize things, marshal resources, and organize new development programs, and so on. People can then participate as they wish. They’ll have new opportunities that they do not have now. I’m mainly aiming at the poorest people in Ukraine who have no real opportunities to improve their lives and get out of poverty. Helping them will provide significant economic benefit to Ukraine, not least by creating a stronger economy and larger annual national budget – which in turn makes possible helping improve social and economic conditions for more people. "

" I believe in the people of Ukraine. It is Ukrainian people where I find inspiration to go on working here. The vast majority of Ukrainians are decent, hard-working people. You have world-class universities, formidable intelligence, and enormous human potential. I simply cannot say that enough times, your human potential. It is your greatest national asset and, once unleashed, will bring Ukraine among the forefront of leading countries in the world. My role in Ukraine is to help unleash that potential. Nothing more, nothing less. I’m here mainly as human being, by the way, not as American, but being an American, there are certain things I can do to help that happen. Given hundreds of other countries in the world that I could work in, I see Ukraine as the best, most promising country to spend my limited life time. "

A decade later, his follower arrives: