With wealth comes responsibility and in this third cut of Richard Branson's interview with Japanese journalist Mayumi Yoshinari, he shares his thoughts on the work needing to be done to tackle some of the world's problems... not least, the war on drugs.

Business People’s Responsibilities

Business people have to think about how their business can actually better this world
 

You quite often encourage business people to engage in society or the community much more. You mentioned about a particular responsibility of business people. Do you think these people can provide a different perspective to solve the world’s problems?

Richard:

Yes. I think business people have a different perspective to problems – particularly entrepreneurial people - than some politicians and some social workers. But I think collectively, the three groups of people – politicians, social workers, and business people – if they work together to solve the problems of this world, then the problems of this world will be solved. If I can think, “Right, how can I send people into space?”, and I can set up a spaceship company, and send people into space, I should be able to sort out some of the other problems back here on earth.

Only very recently, we set up something called The B Team. The B Team is a wonderful group of business leaders. And the idea for the B Team is to try to get as many businesses in the world as possible to become a force for good – not just to think about the financial bottom line, but to think about the environmental bottom line, to think about people, and to think about how their business can actually better this world. And I think if we can unite as many businesses as possible in this world to do that, I really do think we can get on top of most issues in this world.

With wealth comes enormous responsibility

Actually, in the United States the top 1% is controlling 43% of the rest of the wealth.

So I think it’s great if business people, or the business world, decide that their purpose is not seeking wealth, but to make a difference in the world. That sounds a grand idea...

Richard:

I think with wealth comes enormous responsibility. There are some people who have the wealth of a small nation. It’s questionable whether that’s right.  

I think most of us believe capitalism is maybe the only system that really works that well. Because it has the floor of the enormous wealth amongst a few people, those people have enormous responsibility, and those people must work hard, employ people, put that wealth back into society, and use their time and energy to try to get on top of the problems of the world.

It used to be that the government collected tax money and created NASA, for instance, to launch a rocket. Now, some innovative groups of people can do the same thing with 1/10 of the cost.

Richard:

Yes. Governments are not very good at running businesses. They achieve some incredible things through NASA, but at enormous expense. Every time governments sent a spaceship into orbit, it costs 1¼ billion dollars. For a private company to do that, we don’t have it; we don’t have 1¼ billion dollars, so ourselves at Virgin Galactic, we’ll be able to send people into space for a fraction of what it costs governments to go into space. (Virgin Galactic was founded in 2004 to provide suborbital space flights –going over the altitude of 100km above the earth’s sea level - to space tourists).

And I think because now private enterprises are getting involved in space travel, we’ll be able to, for instance, put out satellites for a fraction of the price it’s cost in the past. So, for the two billion people who don’t have telephones, they’ll be able to get telephones, or people who have telephones already or Internet access or Wifi access will be able to bring the price down dramatically over the next few years.

So, we’ll be able to one day fly people across the world much quicker and in a much more environmentally-friendly way. So I think that the right kind of private companies can do quite a lot of good things in this world, and what we’ve got to try to make sure is that every company becomes the right kind of company. 

You are highly involved with the Global Commission on Drug Policy also, together with President Cardoso. Would you explain why the War on Drugs has been called the biggest failure of world policies of the last 40 years? Why do we have to change the paradigm of the drug policy from a criminal issue to a health issue?
 

Richard:

Well, I was asked to join the Global Commission of Drug Policy two years ago. It had on it 15 ex-Presidents, all of whom regretted that when they were President that they were not bold enough to make the right decisions on the Drug Policy. And they asked me to join, because they thought me being an entrepreneur might have a slightly different approach.

We looked at the last 40 years, we examined every year, and every year, the war on drugs has failed worse and worse and worse. More and more people are taking drugs, more and more people are ending up in prison, more and more countries are disintegrating – Mexico and other countries in South America – are disintegrating, more and more people are getting criminal records... The misery that has been caused in the last 40 years has been immense.

As a businessman, if I have a failed policy, a failed company, after one or two years, I will change tactics – I will look at other companies and try to find a different approach. This has not happened in the global attack on drugs.  So we looked at the countries where the policies were working better - we looked at Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Germany - and we found that in Portugal, they said 10 years ago: 'Nobody will ever go into prison again for taking drugs. We will treat drugs as a health problem, not a criminal problem. If somebody has a drug problem, they can come to a commission of psychiatrists, social workers, etc. for people. They can talk to us. If they need clean needles, we’ll give them. We’ll help them through the clinics, and help them get off their problem...'

As a result, the amount of use of heroin has dropped dramatically; the spread of HIV has dropped dramatically; the spread of hepatitis has dropped dramatically; the amount of people being broken into in homes with drug related reasons has dropped something like 90%; and it’s been an overwhelming success. If somebody’s smoking marijuana, they do not get prosecuted – they can do it in their home – but actually the use of marijuana has dropped as well.

So I think that the Commission’s general approach is, if my son or my daughter, or my brother or my sister, had a drug problem, we would not want to see them put in prison; we’d want to see them helped, and we should treat everybody in society the same way.

In part four, Richard talks about the relevance and benefit of different types of education, the importance of interpersonal skills and how the right gesture at the right time can make or break a situation.

If you missed parts one and two, don't worry, follow the links below:
 

-This article was first published in English at The Elders.

If we can unite as many businesses as possible in this world to do that, I really do think we can get on top of most issues in this world