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This turned up in an article in the New York Times as a term to describe “young billionaires who have reaped the benefits of capitalism and believe that it can be applied in the service of charity”. It turns out not to be a neologism, but one that has had a few earlier outings.

It is claimed that the difference between old-style philanthropists like Carnegie or Rockefeller and the new philanthropreneurs is that the latter combine active money-making with a willingness to tackle social problems of the kind that have previously been thought to require governmental action. It is in essence capitalism that aims to do good at the same time, a hybrid activity that is causing some classically trained economists to scratch their heads in disbelief.

Cases quoted in the New York Times article include Jeffrey Skoll, the former president of eBay, who has invested in a firm that makes waterless urinals to save water in arid countries; Stephen Case, the founder of America Online, whose charitable foundation pays to install water pumps in African villages but also operates a for-profit firm that ensures that they continue to be maintained; and Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin brand, who is investing in a scheme to combine mine-disposal in Mozambique with opportunities for Africans to grow sugar cane to make ethanol for fuel.

[Thanks to Harold Pinkley for pointing out the NYT article.]

The approach of these philanthropreneurs reflects the culture of the business that brought them their wealth: information technology, with its ethos that everyone should have access to information. By their way of thinking, the marketplace can have the same level-the-playing-field impact, and supply the world’s poor with basic needs like food, sanitation and shelter.

New York Times, 13 Nov. 2006

Especially among today’s young business leaders, philanthropy and entrepreneurialism are becoming indistinguishable. Consider the following “philanthropreneurs.” Regardless of taxation status or accounting objectives, they’re all hard-charging business people who revel in the fulfillment that comes from building a better world.

Wall Street Journal, 2 Apr. 1999

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