Irenic Thoughts

Irenic. The word means peaceful. This web log (or blog) exists to create an ongoing, and hopefully peaceful, series of comments on the life of King of Peace Episcopal Church. This is not a closed community. You are highly encouraged to comment on any post or to send your own posts.


Bill Gates and the Yellow Pad of Paper

Do not merely look out for your own personal interests,
but also for the interests of others.
—Philippians 2:4

According to The Wall Street Journal, Bill Gates was returning from vacation in New Zealand about three weeks ago, he took out a yellow pad of paper and...

That is a true story. Three weeks ago, Bill Gates took out a yellow pad of paper to make notes on a flight home from vacation and this is big news. What he wrote that he hopes will be world changing after he delivers it in a speach today is this:
Companies should create businesses that focus on building products and services for the poor. "Such a system would have a twin mission: making profits and also improving lives for those who don't fully benefit from market forces...."

Bill GatesMr. Gates sees a role for himself spurring companies into action, he said in the interview. "The idea that you encourage companies to take their innovative thinkers and think about the most needy—even beyond the market opportunities—that's something that appropriately ought to be done," he said....

Key to Mr. Gates's plan will be for businesses to dedicate their top people to poor issues—an approach he feels is more powerful than traditional corporate donations and volunteer work. Governments should set policies and disburse funds to create financial incentives for businesses to improve the lives of the poor, he plans to say today. "If we can spend the early decades of the 21st century finding approaches that meet the needs of the poor in ways that generate profits for business, we will have found a sustainable way to reduce poverty in the world," Mr. Gates plans to say.
The Journal article is quick to point out that he only became interested in the needy after he amassed billions. It's a point well taken. But what about the main premise. The self-described "Impatient Optimist" is suggesting that rather than merely making excess money and giving it to the needy, we might find business opportunities that help the bottom third in the economic scale, the two billion people living on a dollar or two a day.

But as to his central premise of finding business models and products that benefit the needy, as he believes that technology can solve seemingly unsolvable problems. No matter that it took billions of dollars of wealth for him to see it, Bill Gates, and his wife Melinda do have their hearts in the right place. But will this idea scratched out on a pad of paper a few weeks ago transform the world? I wish it could, but find that short of the Kingdom of God, we humans seem more geared toward oppressing others than lifting them up.

We learned painfully in the trenches of World War I and the gas chambers of World War II that advances in technology can have a dark side. I am glad to see someone trying to encourage much more positive use of new knowledge, but history teaches that a new oppressor will rise to take advantage of every new technological edge, from the chariot to the long bow to the tank and missile.

This is not pessimism, but realism. In a world turned away from God, advances in technology often find dark purposes. So, we need a Savior who can lead us to the epiphany of looking to the needs of others and not merely our own. And while many can find that altruistic part of their nature without a relationship with God, this concern for the needy flows naturally from loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself. This is what can transform the world and then the technology can follow. But to have technical advances and changing business models lead the way seems unlikely.

I love the way he wants to try to do something about the big problems of the poorest people on earth. But while I hope he is right and I am wrong, the solution of talking business into putting its best minds on to the problems of the people with the least money seems unlikely to bear much fruit. What do you think?

The Rev. Frank Logue, Pastor

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
for he has appointed me to preach Good News to the poor.
—Jesus in Luke 4:18 quoting Isaiah 61:1


  • At 1/24/2008 8:36 AM, Anonymous kenny said…

    The thing about Bill Gates (and I don't know his spiritual status or can even hazard a guess) is that he's using his talents in a way that's not often recognized as being typically humanitarian.

    He isn't known for starting a soup kitchen, working on houses for the poor, or providing counseling to the mentally ill or chemically dependent. But I'd wager he's made this current world a better place than half or more of the easily recognized saints we look to for inspiration.

    Sure, he's made billions for himself in the process. But he's also made many other people billionaires, many, many people millionaires, countless more well off, and practically the entire world a better place by freeing the very lowest ends of the workforce from much mindless drudgery.

    If it ended there, I'd say he'd done the world a lot of good. But he and his wife have also single-handedly started the biggest philanthropic organization on Earth and, applying his business savvy, have made it one of the most efficient and respected ones by his hands-on leadership.

    All that said, big or small doesn't matter. It's how we are submissive to the call of God. I'm reminded of the widow's mite. Her two small coins wouldn't solve the problems of the world but God could use them combined with her obedience.

    Bill Gates's billions won't wolve the world's problems either. Hopefully God will use his efforts and his spiritual connection will prove to be something of eternal value.

    If nothing else, maybe his example will show the rich that concern for the poor isn't just an issue for governments and the church. Social awareness is the responsibility of the individual first. Warren Buffett, another of the richest men in the world, has also pledged billions of his fortune to help those less fortunate.

    Maybe this will be a lasting trend.

  • At 1/24/2008 9:05 AM, Anonymous searching said…

    “looking to the needs of others and not merely our own”.

    I am one that has been looking at my own needs, not at the needs of others in my life. And then when God doesn't answer my needs the way I want him to, I want to give up. Not for long, but long enough that I screw things up even more.

    Yes we are a world turned away from God, for this reason we look for easy answers and are upset when they don't come. I for one because of not looking to the needs of others have lost a friend making her feel she needs to distance herself from me, and I have also done the same with my priest. Not because of anything he has done, he has been and is still there for me if I need. It's because of what I have and have not done.

    But know it is not too late to be looking at the needs of others as I finally understand. Look outside yourself, outside your problems, your needs and open your eyes to what is going on around you. In your community, your child's school, your church.

    I have found a place where I am loved for ME, and I have pushed that away because of not looking beyond my own needs. Well I can tell you that it stops now, I am moving forward and looking at not my needs but the needs of my children, friends, church and community.

    As Father Frank said “this concern for the needy flows naturally from loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself”. One person can make a difference, one turns into two and then three and so on.

    I may not have millions but I have a heart that if full of love and strong shoulders sometimes it's not about the money it's about your hands, heart and mind and what you can do with them.

    Yes I have gotten off cores from the blog but I usually do.

  • At 1/24/2008 10:50 AM, Blogger November In My Soul said…

    It seems Mr. Gates has stumbled upon genuine truth.

  • At 1/24/2008 12:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    What makes you think that God is not behind Bill Gates writing on the yellow pad of paper? God gave Bill Gates gifts too. This is what Bill Gates knows and does best. It is a bit arrogant to assume that God isn't instrumental in Gate's work just because technology and money are involved. One person cannot transform the world. But, at least allow him his efforts.

  • At 1/24/2008 4:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Lonnie and I used your blog and website as quality examples in our VTS class, "Small Churches and Internet Evangelism." All the best and Christ's peace be with you!---Matthew Moretz

  • At 1/25/2008 1:51 PM, Blogger Bebe Bahnsen said…

    Last night I heard Morris Dees, the founder of The Southern Poverty Law Center, speak. The SPLC has done, and continues to do, wonderful work in civil rights law. Morris started the center after making millions of dollars as a very young man. We are lucky, and blessed, when rich people do the work of God.

  • At 1/26/2008 8:25 AM, Blogger King of Peace said…

    I just read the quote by Suzanne Necker, "Fortune does not change men, it unmasks them."

    The sense of these comments is that Bill Gates fortune unmasked his God-given gift for giving and problem solving coming together to serve the needy. That makes sense to me.

    peace, Frank+


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