During his keynote address at the World Economic Forum last week, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates outlined his vision for 21st century capitalism - governments, businesses and non-profits working together to use market forces to support capitalism while addressing social inequality.

In Bill's own words:

"The challenge here is to design a system where market incentives, including profits and recognition, drive those principles to do more for the poor.

I like to call this idea creative capitalism, an approach where governments, businesses, and nonprofits work together to stretch the reach of market forces so that more people can make a profit, or gain recognition, doing work that eases the world's inequities.

Some people might object to this kind of market-based social change, arguing that if we combine sentiment with self-interest, we will not expand the reach of the market, but reduce it. Yet Adam Smith, the very father of capitalism and the author of “Wealth of Nations,” who believed strongly in the value of self-interest for society, opened his first book with the following lines:

"How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortunes of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it, except the pleasure of seeing it."

James Utzschneider has an interesting post on how this theme applies to the changing focus of Corporate Social Responsibility for companies across the world (including Microsoft):

"It is the concept behind the work of dozens of companies around the world who are taking the philanthropic motivations of their Corporate and Social Responsibility (CSR) departments and integrating them with the creativity of their new product development departments in order to create a new, new thing: a systematic approach to applying the strengths of a company to serve the needs of poor people by essentially treating them as a new class of customers who previously happened to fall outside of the traditional market focus of a company. It involves a new approach to product design, research, distribution, partnership, and profit models -- all done in the name of helping a class of people that businesses have traditionally ignored."

You can also watch a video of the speech here [WMV].

Definitely worth a read/view...