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Global issue 12

Arena Interview...xxxArena We hope to begin offering trips in the very near future and we are Increasingly, it seems successful entrepreneurs and former looking at 2013. Safety has always been our main priority and we politicians are establishing charitable foundations. What led you to will not commence flights until all the test programmes are com- decide to set up Virgin Unite? Do you believe that billionaires and pleted. Going forward, our aim is to make space travel accessible multimillionaires have a philanthropic duty to share their wealth? to as many people as possible. Virgin Unite was born in 2004. I wanted to start a foundation to simply do what the name suggests – to unite all the Virgin com- You set up Virgin Fuels to try to develop cheaper and cleaner munities around the world to use our entrepreneurial energy and fuels for both cars and aircraft. The latest reports suggest that resources to make change happen by driving business as a force for it is having some success in developing a blend of ordinary good in the world. and recycled ethanol from heavy industrial plants for use in Philanthropy is a wise way to start new business-based ap- commercial aircraft. What is your own take on the company’s proaches to issues – such as kick-starting capital to create business most interesting achievements so far, and what its next targets models that will help solve social and environmental issues. might be? Virgin Fuels, which I set up in 2006, went on to broaden its renew- able horizons and became Virgin Green Fund. One of the compa- nies that we’ve invested in is Gevo. Gevo have done extremely well in developing their methods for developing sustainable bio- based alternatives to petroleum fuels. There are a few inevitable growing pains when developing these new technologies, but they are focusing on some healthy ethanol sales while working away at these bigger goals. In the light of the knowledge you have acquired since you first started to be concerned about global warming, what do you now think is the single most urgent challenge that humankind has to face up to in combating its effects? It’s hard to pinpoint one particular challenge when the im- pacts of global warming are so diverse and yet so interrelated. However, it seems as if sustainable development and battling climate change has fallen almost completely off the political radar in the current US presidential race. And at Rio+20, gov- You set up the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship (BCOE) in ernments could have agreed to get rid of fossil fuel subsidies South Africa in 2007. To what do you attribute your obvious special and to protect and monitor oceans, which wouldn’t have cost interest in the future of South Africa, and do you have a particular money but would contribute to profitable fishing industries vision for its future development? and healthier oceans. I think the most urgent challenge is get- I find the people of South Africa warm-natured and their amazing ting the public and the political community to understand the spirit is inspiring. South Africa is one of my favourite countries gravity of these issues. While their inaction is shameful, peo- to visit – from the hustle and bustle of the city atmosphere to the ple – through community-led initiatives and businesses – are amazing wildlife and landscapes. already starting to clean up our planet. Via the BCOE, we aim to help businesses develop and, in turn, create jobs and stimulate the local economy, delivering Are you pleased with the results achieved so far since you economic growth. launched the Virgin Earth Challenge in 2007 as a prize for a design to remove atmospheric greenhouse gases? Which of the various In the light of your own experience of setting up the Virgin record technologies that have been submitted for consideration for the company in the 1970s, what advice would you give to young prize have you been most interested in or excited by? businessmen and women hoping to start their own ventures now? Any prize or competition looking for solutions to complex prob- Do you think that conditions are harder now than 40 years ago? lems will always have its challenges, but we have made some I don’t think it’s harder to achieve success today or start a business good progress. The Virgin Earth Challenge team has reviewed than it was when we started Virgin 40 years ago. If you have an over 10,000 applications and 2,600 proposals since its launch. idea that’s going to make a big difference to people’s lives, and And 11 groups that showed the best potential for meeting the other people are not doing it, you know, just say “screw it”, do it tough criteria for our prize as they move forward have been an- and get on with it, and give it a go. Even if you fall flat on your nounced. The leading solutions range from the chemical capture face, you’ll learn so much from it and have a lot of fun. And then of CO2 direct from air to the sustainable management of grass- you can pick yourself up and try again. I think especially with the lands. I understand from Alan Knight and David Addison, who Internet, there are just so many opportunities out there today. run the Earth Challenge, that all of the leading groups are do- I would suggest looking for opportunities where you can offer ing fantastic work. I also understand that much more help from something better, fresher and more valuable. At Virgin, we often many more people is needed in exploring and backing each of move into areas where the customer received a poor deal and where these interesting and exciting areas. I would call upon business- the competition is complacent. Also look at how you can deliver es, policy-makers and thought leaders to learn more about the old products in new ways. We are proactive and quick to act, often leading organisations in the Earth Challenge and see what you leaving bigger and more cumbersome organisations in our wake. can do. Who knows, there may be more than the Virgin Earth Seek help and advice from friends and family, and don’t be Prize in it for you! afraid to ask questions and learn from others. globalfourth quarter 2012 www.global-briefing.org l43


Global issue 12
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