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Spreading The Wealth

Technology solves a lot of problems. All our lives are better because of it. We have warm homes, preserved food, instant transportation, advanced medicines and surgical procedures, weather forecasts, immersive entertainment, limitless communication, and Monday Night Football, to name a few.

So I was encouraged by the actions of a number of the world’s richest technology execs in recent days. Not coincidentally, most of those world’s richest people are the world’s richest people precisely because of their accomplishments in the technology world. They know a thing or two about solving problems, And that’s why we need to sit up and take notice when a coalition of tech titans like Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg join together to tackle what they consider to be a major problem.

In this case, that problem is our addiction to fossil fuel — a decidedly last-century technology. Our reliance on it has led to war, pollution, corruption and climate change. The answer, this tech titan collective believes, is the continued development and adoption of renewable energy sources.

Renewables have been around for decades but because of our infrastructure and established economy, they have been slow to grow, but all of that may change with the establishment of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, an investment fund for private investors committed to “early-stage investing in potentially transformative energy systems” with “near zero carbon emissions.”

It is not an effort to increase regulation. It’s not a liberal or conservative pet project. It’s a business-first approach to problem-solving that promises to make the world a better place while simultaneously making shrewd technology investors money. And given the track record of the founders of the coalition, I would venture to guess that many of those investors will, eventually, make a lot of money.

A few days after the Breakthrough Energy Coaltion was announced, Mark Zuckerberg became a first-time dad. His response to this awesome responsibility was an announcement that he would be giving away 99 percent of his Facebook fortune to charitable causes. That amounts to about $45 billion in present value.

Zuckerberg was no doubt inspired by fellow tech gazillionaire Bill Gates, whose Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been doling out parcels of Bill’s Microsoft fortune to charity for a decade and a half now. The foundation currently sits on an endowment of $44 billion. Some of its biggest efforts involve eradicating disease and poverty and reforming education.

There are countless people doing countless good deeds out there, and I could devote many column inches to celebrating them. But what stands out to me is the fact that two very rich men, who have every right to sit back and count their money behind high walls, decided that the world around them is worth investing in. Gates and Zuckerberg will probably never suffer from the causes they want to tackle, but they are taking them on anyway, for the common good.

Technology solves a lot of problems. So does money. But technology and money can’t solve problems in a vacuum. Gates and Zuckerberg are proving that sitting on the biggest pile of money is not what makes one a winner: being a leader is.