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Bono Learns that Forgiving Debt is Not Enough

Always impressed to see musicians learn how the world really works.  You never know just how they might react.

Take U2’s Bono, who for years thought that just having countries forgive billions in foreign debt would be enough to get sub-Saharan Africa on its feet.  Nope, he’s now discovered that those pesky capitalist pigs — you know, the evil ones — can be damned helpful.

Bono has learned much about music over more than three decades with U2. But alongside that has been a lifelong lesson in campaigning — the activist for poverty reduction in Africa spoke frankly on Friday about how his views about philanthropy had now stretched to include an appreciation for capitalism.

The Irish singer and co-founder of ONE, a campaigning group that fights poverty and disease in Africa, said it had been “a humbling thing for me” to realize the importance of capitalism and entrepreneurialism in philanthropy, particularly as someone who “got into this as a righteous anger activist with all the cliches.”

“Job creators and innovators are just the key, and aid is just a bridge,” he told an audience of 200 leading technology entrepreneurs and investors at the F.ounders tech conference in Dublin. “We see it as startup money, investment in new countries. A humbling thing was to learn the role of commerce.”

Bono’s work with ONE was borne out of a charity he co-founded in 2002, DATA, which sought to raise awareness around debt, AIDS and trade in Africa; it created ONE in 2004 and the two organizations were merged under the name ONE in 2008. (Disclosure: Bono is a managing partner of Elevation Partners, a investment firm that owns a stake in Forbes Media.) As part of his work on the board of ONE, Bono has lobbied American congressmen, presidents and other leaders from developed nations.

The singer, who dropped by the F.ounders conference on Friday in between working on songs for U2′s next album, said he’d had other, similarly tough realizations: that there are “enormously useful,” people on the left and right. “You just have to reach them.”

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