Small Business

Richard Branson Spotlights Five Altruistic Companies

Richard Branson for Entrepreneur
Sir Richard Branson
Simon Dawson | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The band R.E.M. has a great song titled "It's the End of the World As We Know It (and I Feel Fine)." I have often wondered if we should officially adopt it as the anthem of Capitalism 24902 — a new way of doing business that works toward the good of the community.

It is urgent that we cast aside old business models and embrace those that value and reward doing the right thing. Over the last several years, I've been lucky enough to meet lots of great people at companies that are enjoying success while delivering Capitalism 24902. Here are a few examples:

(Read More: Richard Branson's Tips for Growing Your Business)

A Sight for Sore Eyes

There are 12 million blind people in India, yet 80 percent of those cases could have been prevented or cured. Following the American chain store model, Aravind Eye Care System, founded by Dr. Govindappa Venkataswamy, has trained individuals in eye care and created a franchise system that makes care more accessible.

Aravind reports that in the year ending March 2011, it handled more than 2.6 million outpatient visits and performed more than 315,000 surgeries. The revenue from paying clients fuels growth and expansion and covers subsidies to treat the poor. Aravind says that is able to treat almost half its patients at low to no cost.

Where the Owners Do All the Work

Imagine a business with 76,500 owners — that is John Lewis Partnership, the British department store chain. They put their people first, making them partners who have a say in how the company is run and receive a share of the profits. In consequence, the company is not focused on short-term profit to placate shareholders; according to their partnership constitution, everyone involved works toward "the happiness of our members, through their worthwhile and satisfying employment in a successful business." John Lewis even owns and runs five holiday resorts for the benefit of its employees.

The John Lewis Partnership is the largest employee-owned company in the U.K. Their focus on people is working — John Lewis employees stay with the company twice as long as is average in the retail industry.

Upping the Ante

When Boudewijn Poelmann started the Dutch Postcode Lottery in 1989, he wanted the business to be all about communities raising funds and supporting organizations that advocate for a fairer, freer and greener world.

The postcode lottery model is a unique one. Individuals don't win — communities do. If your postcode comes up as a winner, everyone in your community who has bought a ticket shares in the winnings. There have been great block parties bringing everyone together to celebrate.

More than 2.5 million families bought 4.5 million tickets in 2011, and the lottery has now expanded to Sweden and the United Kingdom, with 50 percent of the gross proceeds going to charity.

Hey, You, Get Onto My Cloud creates software that makes businesses more effective, such as customer relationship management systems. Founded in 1999 by Marc Benioff, a former Oracle executive, and expert software developers Parker Harris, Dave Moellenhoff and Frank Dominguez, Salesforce is among the top 50 fastest-growing companies in the world.

The San Francisco-based company draws on resources across all operations to make a difference. For example, Salesforce boasts that its system uses 95 percent less carbon than traditional computing systems: by drawing on its 100,000 client companies to share IT resources over a vast number of computers, it generates enormous economies of scale that minimize CO2 emissions.

1.5 Million and Counting

Working Assets is not your typical communications company. While they sell credit card, mobile and long-distance services, their mission is to support peace, equality, human rights and the environment. They say that they have created a community of activists that by 2011 was 2.5 million strong.

According to Working Assets, in 2011 members generated more than 16 million calls, letters and emails advocating political change, and since the company was founded in 1985 it has helped to raise nearly $70 million for organizations working to change the world.

Working Assets makes it easy for people to make a difference just by going about their daily lives. The company donates 1 percent of monthly bill charges to organizations that share the company's goals.

Clearly, Capitalism 24902's time has come. Now we all need to get on with it and make it happen — quickly! Can you imagine what a different world we will live in when businesses do what's right for communities and the environment?