Sir Richard Branson
Sir Richard Branson Founder, Virgin Group
Well, I think that what I've come to realize as I've got older is that we cannot rely on governments to sort out the world's problems. In fact, it would be unfair to rely on politicians who may only be in the job for two or three years on average, maximum, to sort out the world's problems, whereas entrepreneurs and business leaders are often there for decades. They've got financial resources, and they've got entrepreneurial skills. So we set up a foundation, Virgin Unite, to a) unite the 60,000 people who work for Virgin, but b) to use entrepreneurial ways of looking at the problems in the world and seeing whether we could address them in a better way than they'd been addressed before.
So when the invasion of Iraq was looking imminent, I was one of many people who felt it was the wrong thing for -- I've been through the Vietnamese War and did not want to see another Vietnamese War in Iraq. I've met Saddam Hussein, and I thought that perhaps he could be persuaded to go and live in somewhere like Libya for the sake of his people. Not a particularly nice man, but at least he could live his life in peace -- rather than almost definitely being killed -- and save his people.
So I talked to Nelson Mandela and talked to Kofi Annan, and they agreed to go and see him and try to persuade him to step down and sent a plane to South Africa. And the day that they were due to go, the bombing started, and the meeting never took place.
But that gave me an idea that maybe the world would benefit from, say, the 12 most influential, respected elder statesmen and stateswomen working together to resolve conflicts. Then Mandela and Graca Machel agreed to be the founding elders, and Kofi Annan agreed to come on board and Archbishop Tutu and Mary Robinson and Gro Harlem Brundtland, anyway a wonderful group of people -- President Carter in America -- and the Elders got formed. They're run just like I'd run any of our other businesses, except that they give them complete independence. There's a very good chief executive who looks after them, they're properly funded, and they can get on and make a difference.
Jean Oelwang Chief Operating Officer, Virgin Unite
Virgin Unite was created to look at, "How do we harness all the incredible entrepreneurial energy across the Virgin Group to drive change in the world?"
We were created really on a couple principles. One was, "We're not saving the world; we're reinventing it." So, how do you use that entrepreneurial energy and lens to look at the issues we face in a whole new way? The second principle we were really created on is, "How can business truly be a force for good?" So, how do you turn business upside down, and revolutionize the way we look at our economic model? So, we don’t just focus on profit, but we focus on people, planet, and profit in equal measures, and really put driving change at the core of a business, rather than as an add-on as an extra charity, or some CSR team in a corner office, but it becomes the heart and soul of everything a business does.
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