Doing well can be the best way to do good

Dambisa Moyo, author of Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working and How There is a Better Way For Africa, and I met for breakfast recently. Dead Aid argues that aid to Africa is hurting Africa and should be phased out. It became a New York Times bestseller. She reminded me of one of the best things that George Bush said in his quote: “the soft bigotry of low expectations” – to refer to society’s view that disadvantaged people can never pull themselves out of their situation.

Mikkel Verstergaard’s Verstergaard Frandsen, a Danish company based in Switzerland, is an example of the type of company that solves problems that aid organisations believe only they can solve. Verstergaard Frandsen operates under their own unique Humanitarian Entrepreneurship business model.

This “profit for a purpose” approach has turned corporate social responsibility into their core business of creating life-saving products for the developing world. Mikkel has created a very successful business, eradicating disease. Far from finding conflicts of interest in profit and purpose, one feeds the other. The success that Verstergaard Frandsen has financially allows it to do more good.


“Doing good” increasingly dominates the corporate agenda. I participated in the Guardian Activate 2010 Summit where the winner of the pitch competition was Mendeley, an online research management tool which enables you to organise, share and discover research papers.

The entire summit was about how you can “do good” through the internet. Other finalists included Everyclick with their “Give as you Live” technology, Medikidz, which has created a series of super heroes to explain disease for children, and Monitise, the global leader in mobile banking which is gaining adoption in the developing and developed world, and will lower the cost of cash remittances dramatically.

At The Times CEO Summit last week after the evening dinner address by David Cameron, I was struck by the comments at my table afterwards where a couple of the listeners indicated that they feared the worse with all of the budgets cuts.

Personally, I’m confused by all the talk about austerity. Living within one’s means is called “sanity” not “austerity”. In order for the UK to do good in the world, it must do well first. Otherwise, there is nothing to share, and slowly the country shrivels.

The next decade will be defined by a new group of giants – entrepreneurs, thinkers, leaders – who dare to challenge the champagne socialists of the UK to throw out their soft bigotry and try on a new framework: “doing well is the best way to do good”.

Julie Meyer is chief executive of Ariadne Capital and a dragon on the BBC’s Online Dragon’s Den.