Being Sir Richard Branson: The many faces of ‘screwing it’

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Miles Dixon/Metro

1. Disarmament: Let’s get rid of that old junk and save money

Twenty years ago, the United States and Russia had thousands of nuclear weapons each. The arsenal was called MAD, Mutually Assured Destruction, because they could easily annihilate the world many times over. Today the world’s nuclear powers — USA, Russia, Britain, France, China and unofficial
nuclear countries like India and Pakistan — still have hundreds of nuclear warheads. That’s enough to destroy the world many times over, and these weapons cost over $1 billion per decade.

As a result, Sir Richard Branson and some 300 world leaders have formed Global Zero, a global organization that advocates eliminating all the world’s nuclear weapons.

“From a deterrent point of view, a country only needs 300 nuclear weapons”, Sir Richard told Metro earlier this year. “Getting rid of nuclear weapons would save a lot of money and would solve many of the world’s current deficit problems.”

That’s because maintaining the current nuclear stockpile is hugely expensive: The total cost to official and unofficial nuclear weapons states is expected to surpass $1 trillion in the next decade, according
to a study released by Global Zero.

Global Zero now also has some 400,000 members worldwide.

“Global Zero will always have a partner in me and my administration”, US President Barack Obama has said. No doubt Global Zero and its distinguished statesmen benefit from Sir Richard’s fame. The organization’s student chapter has proved a particular success, with students at over 100 universities
in 10 countries signing up to campaign for the end of nuclear weapons.

2. The Elders: They’ve got the time — to work for peace

They’re old – and cool. When Nelson Mandela retired as President of South Africa, he wanted to use his stature to help solve conflicts around the world. He turned to Sir Richard, who agreed to co-found, and fund, The Elders. The Elders are just that: older statesmen whose reputation allow them to crisscross the world and help solve disputes. Mandela has since been joined by, among others, his old friend Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Graca Machel (Mandela’s wife, who has a long political career in her native Mozambique) and former US President Jimmy Carter.

The Elders may seem like a non-selling concept in a youth-driven culture, but it fills a unique need in international politics as there’s no institution or organization to which parties in conflict can turn. The United Nations appoints envoys, but their missions are official and subject to pressures from UN member states. The Elders go in a private capacity. And after missions to the Koreas, Middle East, Sri Lanka, Cyprus and Sri Lanka, The Elders have gained the top players’ attention: Lakhdar Brahimi, one of The Elders, has just been appointed UN envoy to Syria.

3. Space exploration: The sky is no longer the limit

The US state of New Mexico hosts a novel installation: a spaceport. Starting next year, space tourists willing to pay $200,000 will be able to blast off from Spaceport America on a Virgin Galactic spacecraft.

They’ll spend a total of 2.5 hours in space and five minutes in weightlessness.

But, insists Sir Richard, his Virgin Galactic flights are not frivolous. On the contrary, scientists will use the flights to carry out research on the ozone layer; NASA will even rent space on the flights.

Virgin Galactic isn’t even very harmful to the environment: according to him, a person on a Virgin Galactic spaceflight will contribute less to global warming than an economy-class passenger on a London- New York flight; indeed, he predicts the spaceflights will soon be carbon-neutral.

Sir Richard’s fascination with space has an environmental angle, too. He plans use satellites to monitor activities like illegal logging.

4. Legalizing drugs: Follow Portugal’s example

Take a look at Mexico: between January and September last year, nearly 13,000 Mexicans were killed in drug-related violence. Since the country’s government launched its war on drugs six years ago, nearly 48,000 people have been killed. Over 50,000 troops and policemen are involved in the war against drugs – and that’s just in Mexico.

Each year, some $13 billion worth of drugs is smuggled from South America to the United States.
Combating drugs, argue Sir Richard and others, is a waste of time and money.

Earlier this year, he testified to the British Parliament about the benefits of decriminalizing
drug use, noting that countries like Portugal, which have decriminalized drug use, have seen a drop in both the number of drug addicts and the amount of drug-related crime.

In fact, Sir Richard joins a growing chorus of voices in favor of softer drug legislation. Together with global leaders like Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa and Ernesto Zedillo, former President of Mexico, he has formed the Global Commission on Drug Policy, which supports softer drug legislation.

Even Mexico’s outgoing President, Felipe Calderon, who made the drug war a centerpiece of his administration, has said he’s willing to discuss legalizing drugs.

5. Humanitarianism: Business must take care of the people

OK, Sir Richard surfs for fun, but he’s also developed a knack for performing publicity stunts for good causes. And a good cause is, he argues, often good business.

The boundaries between work and purpose are merging into one, he writes in his new book, “Screw Business As Usual.”

Sir Richard names his concept “Capitalism 24902”. (The name refers to the circumference
of the globe.) “Every single business person has responsibility for taking care of the people and the planet that make up our global village,” he writes.

Curing disease may be the most dauting task facing the business person who wants to save the planet.
In Britain, Branson thought up the Virgin Health Bank, where parents can store their children’s stem cells.

6. Music: The king maker

And how did Sir Richard make all this happen?

In the 1960s 1960s and 70s, he started selling records while running a magazine. Virgin’s first release was “Tubular Bells” by Mike Oldfield (1973), a chart-topper that led to deals with the Sex Pistols, Culture Club and many more. After selling Virgin Records to EMI in 1992 for an astonishing $1 billion, could SiR Richard be wanting to get back in the game?

7. Environment: Deal with problems in an entrepreneurial spirit

Environment: Celebrities like to travel to Necker Island, Sir Richard’s island in the Virgin Islands. But Sir Richard has smaller friends on his island too – ring-tailed lemurs, an endangered species from Madagascar that Sir Richard has imported to his island in an attempt to save the animals.

Sir Richard has larger environmental ambitions, too, and not just out of a desire to save the Earth.

“We have to deal with environmental problems in an entrepreneurial spirit”, he told Metro earlier this year. “For example, Virgin’s new aviation fuel uses waste from steel mills. Millions of jobs could be created worldwide by greening our cities. The environment would benefit, the cities would benefit, regular people would benefit, and it would stop money pouring out to the Middle East.”

Sir Richard has pledged to donate all his aviation businesses’ profits to the development of alternative fuels. His new Carbon War Room, in turn, encourages entrepreneurs and venture capitalists to come up with solutions to global warming.


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