Yesterday, I had the incredible privilege to spend some quality time with Sir Richard Branson. He was the opening keynote at VTEX Day 2017, the top e-commerce conference in Brazil.
In the next few days, I will share some of the incredible insights he shared with the more than 10,000 participants in this conference including: why he is spending over a billion dollars to take people to space, his advice for entrepreneurs, and some incredible nonprofits he has started in order to make the world a better place.
But first, I want to speak to something that is near and dear to his heart: the failed "war on drugs" and the continuance of national governments to punish those with drug addictions.
How Many Have Heard of Sao Paulo's Massive Drug Arrests?
Sir Richard Branson was incredibly generous with his time and wisdom yesterday. After being peppered with tons of great business-related questions, he had a question for everyone else: Who has heard of Brazil's 38 arrests in Crackland?
One man had followed the story and shared with the audience.
In Sir Richard Branson's own words, "[This story] should be something people know, because there you had a situation in Brazil where they were really working to try and help the drug users," he said. "[Members of the local community] were doing everything that they could to get [the drug users] back on their feet. And it was working. The amount of crime dropped by 50%. It was a good example of how Brazil should be behaving. And some idiot sends 900 militarized police in, destroys these people's lives ... ending up in prisons and sleeping on concrete floors."
Sir Richard Branson has dedicated his life to making the world better and is visibly frustrated by our global lack of compassion and understanding for people who are addicted to drugs.
"This whole war on drugs ... is doing so much harm. We just have to wake up. People need to read about what's happening to people in countries that are not doing this and why it's working. South America of all places has been punished more than anywhere else in the world ... South America is still punishing its young people."
The Utter Failure of the War on Drugs
Sir Richard Branson can't believe that 50 years later, many countries are still punishing its people who are addicted to drugs. Rather than working to regulate and find ways of helping the addicted, many countries, including the US, are still punishing and incarcerating drug users. Sir Richard Branson's recommendation instead is to look to countries such as Germany who have found workable solutions that treat the addicted as a form of disease and focus on rehabilitation rather than incarceration - not just to help the addicted, but also to help the growth of the global economy.
The Solution to the Global Drug Crisis Requires Your Entrepreneurial Skills
So what does Sir Richard Branson see as the solution? "Most companies are realizing that to sort out the world's problems they should use their entrepreneurial skills," he says. "It's fantastic for employees of a company that is really trying to make a difference in the world to feel that the company is more than just a money making machine. And if every single company adopt a problem, we can get on top of most of the world's problems."
He believes that entrepreneurs are better equipped to solve the biggest problems - not the governments who are typically charged to do so. "Business leaders look at things slightly differently than governments" Sir Richard Branson said. "We can look at problems in an entrepreneurial business-like way and I think we can see ways of sorting out problems that sometimes the governments can't."
"South America has suffered enormously from the war on drugs and it's been going on now for 50 years" he said. "And it's a failed war. As a businessman, I would have closed it down 49 years ago. As business people, we look at where there are better ways of dealing with this problem. We see countries that have decriminalized drugs years ago that no longer have a drug problem. Countries like Portugal. Countries like Germany. And yet countries that continue to lock up their young people and criminalize their young people ... the only people who benefit are the courts, the police, the prisons."
For those who are looking for better answers, Sir Richard Branson urges you to check out The Global Commission on Drug Policy whose mission is, "Decriminalizing drug use and possession to advance health and human rights."