Muhammad Yunus received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his pioneering work in microcredit, which has helped millions of people out of the poverty cycle. The first businessman ever to receive such a high honor, Yunus and the Grameen Bank he founded revolutionized conventional ways of banking, creating a system of lending money to the poor, mostly women. Here is a short conversation with such an honorable person about poverty reduction through microcredits:
What has led Grameen Bank into a foundation, and then from microfinance to social business?
Grameen Bank continues to function as it is, but as I was doing the activity microcredit and reaching out to the poor people, I saw many of the other problems of poor people, like healthcare, education, housing, sanitation and nutrition. So every time I saw these problems, I tried to see if I could find a solution for that, and I created a business to find the solution. I created many, many such businesses — more than 50 such businesses — all geared towards solving problems. One special feature of these companies that we created is that we are not interested in making personal money out of it. These are all done – to solve the problems. The profit stays with the company; it doesn’t come to me. So this type of business started getting a name – social businesses – non-dividend companies to solve human problems. Now many countries are adopting them.
To give a more mature example – Danone, in France, is a big milk production company. We have a joint venture as a social business, meaning that Danone will never take any profit out of the business. Almost half the children of Bangladesh are malnourished, so we created this yoghurt and made it very cheap and delicious so that children love it and they can afford it. Now that problem [malnutrition] is being solved. We have a joint-venture with BASF in Germany, producing mosquito nets in Bangladesh to help prevent malaria. Again, BASF doesn’t want to take any profit out of this company.
You shared a philosophy that ‘we are all entrepreneurs, and we can change the world with one microloan at a time.’ How can entrepreneurship help reduce inequality, and generate wealth especially for those from least developed countries ?
I am pointing out that capitalist theory stipulated that almost all human beings will have to make living by working for someone else. They’ll be employees or workers. That’s their destiny. This assumption has led to massive problems of unemployment and dependence on capitalists. This suppressed the creative power of human beings. Each human being is packed with unlimited creative power. This is wasted by becoming a job-seeker.
I am arguing that all human beings are entrepreneurs by birth. They cannot actually become so because we have created a job-oriented world. Institutions do not exist to support entrepreneurship.
In an imaginary world where everybody is an entrepreneur, there will be no wealth concentration, because wealth concentration is possible if a vast majority of people work for capitalists. If nobody is working for them they cannot amass wealth. They’ll be just like everybody else, getting the wealth through what they worked for. As a result, there will be no inequality.
In terms of creative capacity, there is no difference between the people of a rich country or a poor country. Once economy allows it everybody’s creative capacity will come out, there will be no difference in wealth creation between rich country and poor country.
Microcredits from your bank have often been given to women. What is the connection between poverty reduction and giving economic opportunities to women?
Women in every society have remained as untapped power. Microcredit addressed unleashing that power. Not only it helped the family be self- reliant and come out of poverty, it also empowered women socially and politically. Unleashing the entrepreneurial capacity of women transform the society in every aspect, not just economically, but socially, politically and health wise.
How can corporations worldwide support social business and help to reduce poverty?
Every business can create one or more social businesses as a part of their business activity. We have many examples of such initiatives from global companies, like Danone, Intel corporation, Credit Agricole, Veolia, McCain, Uniqlo, etc. Now globally companies contribute a part of their profit in Corporate Social Responsibility programme. This, or in addition to this, companies can create social businesses to address the problems of society wherever they work.
What can the international community do to empower and promote socail, economic and political inclusion of all, irrespective of age, sex, economic or other status?
Already powerful initiatives are taken in this direction through the United Nations. UN General Assembly already adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals to be achieved by 2030. This UN charter has been approved by all nations of the world.
The goals and strategy to achieve them have been laid out. UN is trying to make general citizens, particularly the youth, become aware of these goals and make them their goals. Individuals are the key to the success of the SDGs. Every individual must be convinced that he or she can make SDG a reality by 2030..
I have been encouraging individuals, groups and corporates to create social businesses to accomplish these goals. In addition, create social business venture capital funds to provide venture capital to young unemployed people to become entrepreneurs and start their own businesses. If massive number of social businesses are created all SDGs can be achieved by 2030.
Microfinance, which you are credited with inventing, is an important movement in the history of poverty work. What are the overall achievements so far, and what do you think may be some of the shortfalls?
One thing I would say the word microcredit became very popular – there are courses being taught in universities. Dissertations and PhDs are being written in almost all universities. So it has recognition – partly economic recognition and partly policy recognition. This is an achievement. Almost every country in the world has microcredit. Having said that, it has still not reached all the people who deserve it. So there’s a lot of work to be done. This is number one. Number two, despite all the achievements of microcredit around the world, the banking system has not adopted it. [Countries] have not widened the scope of banking to reach out to the people who remain untouched by banking. It’s still is a footnote in the financial sector, it’s not on the main stage.