Author- Professor Muhammad Yunus
Published on- The World Post
Date- March 29, 2011
I’ve read that two U.S. networks are launching TV shows based on entrepreneurs competing for money for their business ideas. “NBC’s America’s Next Great Restaurant features aspiring restaurateurs trying to impress a panel of judges to win financing for a new chain. And ABC has reintroduced Shark Tank, in which entrepreneurs try to get backing from a panel of venture capitalists who bet with their own money — in exchange for a piece of the action,” the New York Times reported March 27th.
America seems to really like reality shows. Such programs were popular before the financial meltdown; perhaps the networks are betting they’ll win high ratings as the country emerges from the current recession.
But throughout the world, another “reality show” is playing out in actual communities on a huge scale, a truly authentic show whose message remains consistent, no matter the economic tides. This international show is even more exciting because there are so many more participants, and almost every participant can make some progress if they follow the rules.
It’s the daily story of poor but industrious people, mostly women, who are bettering their lives and those of their families with the help of tiny, collateral-free loans. Rather than opening some great new restaurant, these small-scale entrepreneurs are funding self-employment and very small businesses. Though their enterprises are small, these industrious women are feeding and educating their families and gaining financial self-sufficiency. Microcredit loans are the foundation of these reality stories in America, in Bangladesh, and in more than 100 other countries around the globe.
According to the State of the Microcredit Summit Campaign Report, more than 128 million of the world’s poorest families received a microloan in 2009 — an all-time high.
In January 2008, during the largest financial crisis in history, Grameen America opened its doors in Queens, NY. The bank disbursed more than $350,000 in micro-loans to more than 165 borrowers in the first three months alone. Since then, it’s opened branches in Nebraska and in two other New York boroughs, with additional branches under development in five other states. As of March, Grameen America had lent more than $15 million and had about 5,000 active borrowers.
Author- Professor Muhammad Yunus & Gro Brundtland
Published on- The Huffington Post (US)
Date- September 27, 2011
As leaders gathered in New York last week for the United Nations General Assembly, much of the discussion focused on how to do more with limited resources.
Aid from wealthy countries to fight disease and poverty in the developing world has saved countless lives over the past decade. But in these hard economic times, we cannot blindly rely on donor governments to endlessly reach into their budgets to give more. Rather, we must think creatively about new ways to financially support global health and development goals.
The term for this is “innovative financing for development.” We believe it is the next frontier in the fight against global poverty and disease.
After more than a decade of steady increases in funding for global health and development programs, foreign aid is flatlining and in many cases dwindling. This will leave millions without prevention and treatment in years to come. Funding for HIV/AIDS alone dropped 10% in 2010. The United States has scaled back overseas development assistance programs.
These cuts are coming just as investments in global health programs are showing significant returns. Thanks to investments in childhood vaccines, over 80% of children around the world are protected from measles. Polio, once a global scourge, is on the verge of eradication. For the first time since its discovery, HIV/AIDS is on a retreat thanks to 6.6 million people receiving antiretroviral therapy in developing countries.
This is all good news, but there is still much more to be done. Nine million people with HIV/AIDS cannot access treatment. The statistics surrounding women’s health are even more alarming. 215 million women in developing countries do not have access to modern contraception and an estimated 500,000 women die each year during childbirth.
Faced with impending fiscal constraints, the international community has devised several promising financing models to protect investments in global health.
One of these is the Pledge Guarantee for Health (PGH), which was developed through a collaboration of the Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition, the Global Leadership Council for Reproductive Health, the UN Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. PGH is a financial tool that borrows several ideas on trade finance developed by Wall Street, but applies it to the procurement of health commodities like anti-Malaria bed nets, contraceptives and medicines. A donor serves as a guarantor to lending institutions and manufacturers to ensure they will be paid on time and in full. This stretches the value of the donor dollar and hastens the delivery of these commodities to the people who need them.
In February, PGH ensured that 800,000 bed nets arrived in Zambia months ahead of schedule — and before the peak rainy season. Later this month, PGH will use a receivable financing strategy to enhance affordability and ensure increased access of vital contraceptives developed by leading pharmaceutical manufacturers.
Let us be clear, the international development community must still find new funding sources if we are to sustain progress in global health. However, through innovative approaches like PGH, the ability to stretch donor dollars is increased.
Yet another promising example of innovative financing is the International Finance Facility for Immunizations (IFFim), which sells bonds on capital markets that are backed by the long-term commitment of a few donor countries. The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations (GAVI) uses these funds to purchase childhood vaccines worldwide.
The looming era of budget austerity has spawned a wave of creativity. We can no longer exclusively depend on the good graces of donor governments alone. If we are going to sustain the incredible gains in global health that we have made over past decade, we are going to have to keep exploring innovative ways to support these projects.
Author- Professor Muhammad Yunus & Michel Camdessus
Published on- The World Post
Date- June 22, 2012
It is clear that Rio+20 has not delivered what many of us had hoped. Twenty years after the world committed itself to increased efforts to tackle inequality, hunger and environmental destruction at the first Earth Summit, we seem to be moving in the wrong direction.
It was a major disappointment that Rio+20 saw a lack of progress on defined and measurable sustainable development goals. Rather than agreeing new global action to meet existing equity commitments, many seem to have been diluted or have disappeared.
Instead, we saw a wasted opportunity to build on the way the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals) have focused global attention on the needs of the extreme poor. We are pleased to see that the Rio+20 statement recognized the need for increased efforts to meet the MDGs by 2015. But what is lacking is any commitment to timetables or outcomes to achieve and extend this ambition.
This is a huge setback for Africa and other developing regions of the world. As the latest report from the Africa Progress Panel highlighted, the continent continues to suffer from deep, persistent and enduring inequalities. We called for agreement on an international drive to close the gap where the MDGs are going to be missed and to continue progress beyond 2015. This has not happened.
While new efforts to meet the MDGs and to extend them beyond 2015 are vital, they are also not enough on their own. They need to be complemented by practical commitments to address the combined demands of rapid population growth, increased consumption of scarce natural resources, climate change and environmental degradation on our world.
This puts the failures of the global food system high on any agenda for action. Again Africa’s citizens are paying a very high price for these failures. Over 200 million people, the highest proportion of any region, face food insecurity in sub-Saharan Africa.
Ensuring that Africa can meet present and future food needs requires agricultural productivity and small-holder farmers, many of whom are women, to be put at the centre of economic growth strategies. But while stressing the importance of agriculture, the Summit again failed to agree on provisions for the urgently needed investment in small-holding farming and climate adaptation assistance.
Africa is forecast to be the continent worst hit by climate change. Increasing harvests and food production in these challenging circumstances requires a major commitment, by governments within and outside the continent, to fund a climate-resilient Green Revolution in Africa.
This will also require increased international co-operation in managing scarce water resources — essential in Africa whose rivers cross many national borders. So it was alarming to see the Rio Summit apparently giving renewed emphasis to national sovereignty on this critical issue.
Nor did we see the steps needed to strengthen land rights protection and introduce global standards for land acquisition. In the last decade, speculators have bought up over 134 million hectares of land in Africa — an area larger than the UK, France and Germany combined. All too often, it is the poor people who live on this land whose livelihoods and futures are threatened.
None of these ambitions can be met if wealthier countries use the excuse of the global financial crisis to break their promises to the poorest on the planet. The Rio statement rightly calls on Governments to keep their word on all ODA commitments. Yet over 40 years after the developed world first committed itself to spending 0.7 percent of its annual national wealth on aid, only five countries have met this target.
Rich countries, meanwhile, spend 80 times more in subsidy to their own farmers than they do in supporting agriculture in the developing world. Promised money to help poorer countries protect their citizens against climate change has simply not been delivered. This failure helps explain why many developing countries are reluctant to sign up to new international goals.
We understand that national budgets, in developed and developing countries, are under intense pressure. It is why we need to examine new funding mechanisms such as levies on international air transport or bunker fuel taxes. In particular, we agree with our colleague, Mr. Kofi Annan in calling for a financial transactions tax as an innovative method for mobilizing development and climate change finance.
Despite the missed opportunities at Rio, it is not pessimism but action we need. We saw support for the importance of green growth strategies for eradicating poverty, reducing inequalities and upholding human rights. If countries adopt the green accounting measures, endorsed by the UN and World Bank, alongside more traditional economic data, it will be a major step in driving sustainable development.
Above all, in a world more inter-connected than ever, it is becoming clearer by the day that only through multilateral co-operation can we redress unjust and persistent inequalities, world hunger and environmental destruction. But the longer we ignore this truth, the larger these challenges will become.
Author- Professor Muhammad Yunus
Published on- The Huffington Post
Date- December 9, 2014
A few months ago I wrote about young people setting up small businesses in Bangladesh, and how we are helping them. We have learned a lot so far and we have planted many exciting seeds. Today, I would like to tell you more about the same efforts of planting seeds in Albania, where we are helping entrepreneurs develop their social businesses.
Albania is a small country on the Mediterranean Sea, across from Italy and north of Greece. After a long period of isolation and Communist regime, it has opened up to new ideas and it hopes to soon become part of the European Union. But there are still plenty of problems, including rural poverty, youth unemployment and old-age isolation. For example, a quarter of young people are unemployed — and since more than a third of the population is under 25, that’s a big problem. Also, as young people are forced to leave home (and in many cases, to go abroad) to find work, the countryside is left without young, inspired minds that could help drive change. Older people are being left stranded, with no one to care for them.
Traditional businesses in Albania do not address these issues and people as they are not profitable enough or just too difficult to tackle. But the government and NGOs can’t solve all these problems either. Their financial means are very limited and the great projects they are running very much depend on donations, which are decreasing as international donors pull out. That’s why a new generation of entrepreneurs is turning towards the idea of social business. Social businesses are companies created with the sole purpose of solving a social problem. They do that in a business way and once the business is making a profit, it can continue to create social impact. All profits that it generates are reinvested into the same or other social businesses. In the past I have created plenty of these in Bangladesh, and the idea has been catching on in many other countries — including now in Albania.
Two years ago I visited Albania for the first time, and I met many of the entrepreneurs who were planting the seeds of new social businesses. There was a café providing employment to disabled people (my colleague from Yunus Social Business — Global Initiatives, Saskia, wrote about it on the Huffington Post), an old people’s home (which is a new concept in Albania), a company packaging and marketing home-made delicacies from rural areas, and an organic farm, amongst others. Our team helped them on the ground to develop their business models, and then financed them with loans and equity, not donations, because these should be businesses, not charities.
But did it work? That’s what I wanted to find out. So earlier this month I returned to Albania, to see if and how these seeds had sprouted. I also wanted to give encouragement and advice to the next batch of social business entrepreneurs that my team is helping.
Well, the good news is that most of the social businesses have made it through the past two years, and are working their way towards success. As many of you may already be suspecting, it hasn’t been easy for any of them — I don’t think entrepreneurship ever is! — and we have also lost a few along the way. But the old people’s home has been built and opened; its serving its clients and their families well. When I visited, I talked to families that were in tears out of thankfulness for the great offers that the home provides. Even better, it will be earning more money than it spends in the next few months and can reinvest the profits to further increase day care and home care services. A new café for disabled integration is loved by its regulars. It faced a few challenges in the first months and the team in Albania helped the entrepreneurs to bring it back on track. Now, it is doing well and on track to become break-even as well. The delicacies company is scaling up from pilot phase to full operation. We did not manage to find a business model for the organic farm, unfortunately, and did not proceed with financing. The team did, however, find and finance another entrepreneur who now grows and harvests organic medicinal and aromatic herbs and already employs 50 people after only few months of operations.
What really struck me during this second visit to Albania was how many more people now know about social business and want to get involved. Two years ago, it was a real struggle to find enough good entrepreneurs to join our program. Last year, we had 100 applicants. This time around, we have received more than 250 applications. I’m excited about ideas for community-based rural tourism, mobile services for smallholder farmers, and turning waste materials into furniture and jewelry, amongst others. Institutions and local leaders also have a much better understanding of social business and are now inspired by the great work on the ground. The media attention has definitely helped as well — one TV channel even did a TV competition with us for social business entrepreneurs (the disabled-integration café was the winner) and there have been five TV appearances by social businesses this year alone.
Fundamentally, I think it’s because people are seeing these new social businesses starting to make real differences in their communities. It’s very early still, and of course all of these projects are still very small. But people are getting inspired and we have heard about 10 more social businesses that have been started this year with or even without our help — which is great!
Now, Yunus Social Business Albania is excited to turn the small seeds of social businesses into large trees — it is just a question of support and patience. I’m already looking forward to seeing the growth the next time I visit Albania. Meanwhile, other countries in the region want to join in too. Already two social entrepreneurs from Kosovo are joining their Albanian peers for the next entrepreneurship program. So the seeds are spreading and so is the excitement of using creativity and business to address the greatest challenges we face
Author- Professor Muhammad Yunus
Published on- The World Post
Date- July 8, 2015
At their annual summit in Russia in July this week, BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) leaders will announce the world’s newest multilateral development bank — the New Development Bank — which will have U.S. $100 billion as initial capital to fund infrastructure and sustainable development projects both in their own countries as well as elsewhere.
Obviously, the NDB should not become another World Bank that finances the same types of projects in the same countries, using the same tools and mindset. At the same time, its purpose should not be symbolic of emerging countries’ desire to show off their financial and political power. The reason for its creation must be very substantive.
The NDB should be based on entirely new objectives, to be carried out with new strategies. It would be easy for the NDB to fall into the same track as that of the World Bank since it is in the same business. But the NDB must resist this from day one.
I am proposing some objectives for the NDB that I feel are globally relevant. The primary objectives of the NDB should be to achieve three zeros by 2050: zero poverty, zero unemployment and zero net carbon emission. Every year the NDB could publish a report on the BRICS’ progress on these objectives.
The NDB could achieve these goals using four basic strategies.
The first strategy would be to unleash the creative power and commitment of the new generation of youth. If the BRICS can mobilize the power of the youth, it will become easier to achieve the goals.
The second strategy would be to focus on technological innovations to solve human problems. Technology today is under the command of moneymakers and war-makers. Socially committed drivers must take charge of technology. They are invisible today.
Combining the power of the youth with that of technology will create an unshakeable force.
This brings us to the third strategy: build up social businesses to mobilize their creative power to solve long-standing and complex social, economic and environmental problems.
Social business is a new variety of business that delinks itself from a profit motive. They are mission driven-businesses and non-dividend companies exclusively devoted to solving human problems. After the company makes profit, the investor recoups their investment money but does not take any profit after that. Additional profits made are ploughed back into the business to expand it and improve it.
Conventional businesses cannot solve social problems. Other actors such as the state and private charities may be unsustainable and inefficient. Social businesses are sustainable, efficient, replicable and transferable.
I have been creating and promoting this type of business around the world with great results. I believe that the social business model should be the centerpiece of the NDB’s institutional structure and policy package. It is a model that can easily be replicated across a number of contexts.
In fact, unemployment can be brought down to zero through social business initiatives. Unemployment is the product of a flawed interpretation of human beings as per the theoretical framework of economics. Human beings are not job-seekers, they are entrepreneurs by birth. Entrepreneurship is in the DNA human beings. They are go-getters and problem solvers. Social business can turn the unemployed into entrepreneurs. We are doing that in Bangladesh. The NDB can adopt this as its prime program.
Once the NDB creates a new window for financing and promoting social businesses, it will attract the young, old, men, women, individuals and organizations with social business ideas. It can encourage each conventional business to undertake social businesses alongside their main business activities.
The NDB could create country-level social business funds as joint ventures with local partners. It can create provincial level social business funds in which it holds a minor equity with majority equity coming from local investors.
Ensuring financial services to the poor, healthcare to the poor and hard to reach people can be done through creating social businesses.
While the NDB will undertake many types of infrastructure projects, it should give serious consideration to the ownership and maintenance of these infrastructures. We now have examples of major infrastructures being owned by moneymakers. In the old days, this was the exclusive preserve of governments. Apart from government ownership and commercial ownership, there is now a new type of ownership: ownership by social businesses. From the perspective of its users, ownership by social businesses will be much more satisfying than the other two alternatives.
Finally, human rights and good governance should lie at the heart of the NDB’s operations.
At its inception, the NDB has the opportunity to create the right objectives and appropriate strategies for their implementation.
I wish the NDB every success in redesigning the world to make it sustainable.
Author- Professor Muhammad Yunus
Published on- The Huffington Post
Date- December 3, 2015
The global average surface temperature in 2015 is likely to be the warmest on record and to reach the symbolic and significant milestone of 1° Celsius above the pre-industrial era, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The warning comes ahead of landmark climate talks in Paris taking place now, when world leaders are expected to agree on measures to stop temperatures rising beyond key measures.
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) says “this is all bad news for the planet” but I believe now we have in front of us is an unprecedented opportunity, and historical chance to make the paradigm shift that humanity desperately needs. The Paris Climate Conference (COP21) presents us this wonderful opportunity to define our future.
At present, the future of human civilization is at stake because of the senseless slaughter of the environment and natural resources. It is time that we realize the toll the so-called prosperity is taking on the ecology and the climate. We must understand the ominous consequences our unlimited greed and faulty economic practices are having on the planet’s future, and what legacy would we leave for our children and future generations if we continue the so-called “prosperity” at the current pace? Do we want our children born today to live to see humanity’s end? We must not forget that, the present generation is blessed with a unique opportunity and as well as moral responsibility to save the world. It is now obligatory for us to save the planet from the mounting environmental threat. World leaders converging in Paris for the landmark climate talks must not risk being the villains in the eyes of our future generation.
The paradigm shift that we are needing is a radical change that requires us to move away from the excessive and selfish lifestyle we have been led to believe was the most satisfying one, but that is in reality based on egoistic and unjust exploitation of resources and of human capital, to a lifestyle tilted more on selflessness than on selfishness, to an economic system that is untied from continuous concentration of wealth and opportunities, that can lead us to what I have been calling a global destination. I believe to this end, the unveiling of the Sustainable Development Goals is a milestone for our collective future and SDGs hold promise for the future well-being of all humankind. However, the long-awaited Paris Climate Conference can provide critical climate-action policy that can be instrumental in achieving the SDGs.
We know that present development model is not an option anymore: it is as unfair as it is unjust, and left unchecked will take us to an irreversible process of self-destruction. But it is not too late. Greenhouse-gas emission, which is causing global warming and climate change, can be reduced. We have the knowledge and we have the know-how to act. The Paris Conference should focus on both long-term in its aspiration of setting a decarbonization — or net zero — goal; as well as have regular short-term review cycles to ensure that progress is on track. The agreement must also underpin the just transition to a low-carbon economy and green-jobs creation by being grounded in sound equity principles. Achieving this net-zero goals is the only just, rational, and humane way forward.
It is sensible because it will revert the trend of economic development and investment being coupled with carbon emissions; it will present an opportunity to allow for local entrepreneurship to flourish, by stimulating creative transformative initiatives that will provide the ground for a sustainable and just development.
The world must work to gradually end reliance on carbon-based fuels. Scientists have confirmed that enough solar energy falls on the surface of the earth every 40 minutes to meet 100 percent of the entire world’s energy needs for a full year. Even as we tackle the climate challenge, we must also help bring empowering energy services to the 1.2 billion people who lack access to electricity and the almost three billion who cook on polluting, unhealthy stoves. A comprehensive and compassionate response to climate change requires us to help the world’s poorest gain access to sustainable energy solutions so that they can improve their lives while avoiding the dirty-energy path that developed countries followed.
I created Grameen Shakti (energy) social business almost 20 years ago — to bring clean solar power to light and communication technology to the villages across Bangladesh. Currently my country, Bangladesh, has one of the fastest-growing solar-home-system projects in the world. Our efforts exceeded everyone’s expectations, with the millionth solar-home system installed in 2013. But there is much more work to be done to reach the UN’s global goal of reaching universal access to energy, hopefully they mean clean energy, by 2030. Building a green economy by breaking free from fossil-fuel addiction is the smartest and most efficient way to create new engines of sustainable growth and job creation for the next generations.
The effort to achieve zero-carbon emission through renewable energy and technological innovation can create jobs, fight unemployment and poverty. According to a 2015 IRENA report titled Renewable Energy and Jobs, more than 7.7 million people worldwide are now employed by the renewable-energy industry. This is an 18 per cent increase from last year’s. The region with the most number of jobs created in the renewable sector is Asia.
Mitigating vulnerability to climate change driven crisis has become a critical issue for the Global South. Southern countries lack the means to deal with with climate hazards and their economies also lean to have greater reliance on climate-sensitive sectors, such as agriculture, water, and coastal belts. For these developing countries, adaptation to climate change remains at the forefront of their development agenda. Managing climate change and ensuring environmental sustainability requires use of a wide range of environmentally sound technologies. Focusing on technological innovations to solve human problems is a major way forward. Therefore, transfer of environmentally sound technologies is critical in enabling Southern Countries to pursue their objectives for sustainable development in a climate-friendly manner. But unfortunately technology has always remained under the command of money-makers and war-makers. We need to bring in a new class of players on the playing field of technology who will create new technology exclusively for solving social problems and adapt the existing technology for the same purpose, without any thought of making personal profit out of this. The sooner the socially committed players take charge of technology, the faster the world will reach the zero-carbon-emission target. I therefore urge all the developed countries to facilitate and finance the transfer of environmentally sound technologies and know-how to developing countries who are at the forefront of Climate apocalypse.
We cannot ignore the ethical implications of what we are doing to current and future generations, whose opportunities in life will be diminished by the harm we are doing to our planet’s natural systems. It is about creating a healthier society, built on the recognition of a moral obligation to let selflessness to come into full play, and restrain selfishness to initiate a process of transformational change. We are the generation that is responsible for put in motion this trans-generational change.
Published By: www.nationmultimedia.com Thailand
The Nation September 4, 2016 1:00 am
Nation Multimedia Group editorial board adviser Suthichai Yoon talks with 2006 Nobel laureate and microcredit pioneer Muhammad Yunus, the architect of a movement sweeping through Fortune 500 companies, and a ‘Three Zeros’ action plan to preserve the world for future generations
Recognised globally for pioneering the concepts of microcredit and microfinance, Bangladesh national Muhammad Yunus proved that even the poorest of the poor can work to bring about their own development. Founder of Bangladesh's Grameen (Village) Bank, which has been providing access to credit for the poor for more than 30 years, he has today turned his attention to what he calls "social business". This aims to overcome poverty through non-loss, non-dividend companies dedicated entirely to achieving a social goal. Under this model investors get their investment money back over time, but never receive dividends beyond the initial amount. "Social business," he told Forbes magazine last year, is a complement to traditional profit-maximising business.
You came from Rio, what were you doing at the Olympics?
I was a torchbearer and I was also invited to address the International Olympic Committee meeting on why [sport] should have social dimensions. No matter whether it's a global, regional, national or local event, if a national Olympic committee gets the idea to do something special with the social dimensions, a huge number [of people] will get involved.
What are the social aspects of sport?
Several things. For example, there are four cities in the running to host the Olympics in 2024, Paris, Budapest, Rome and Los Angeles, selected on the basis of an eligibility checklist. If you put one more condition in that list - the number of social businesses you have in your city - then everyone becomes conscious of it. So candidates have to start social business, otherwise they might not qualify. You don't need to spend any money, but people become aware about social businesses.
A selected host like Rio must have a legacy programme, [detailing] what you will leave behind [after the Olympics]. The poor, slum children who don't have education, healthcare - these are all legacy [issues]. You have to build business fund to this city, before and after. It's not just one shot and then forget.
Bring in educational programmes for students to learn about it. Young people love this idea. They want to get involved [because they look up to] national heroes - the gold-medal winners.
What young people do when they get into a university is they want to mobilise. [In sporting heroes] you have the mobilising force, you have the power to convince.
Private companies hire these celebrities to sell their products. We are already using [this power, but] for commercial purposes.
But is social business sustainable?
Yes, endlessly so. That's why you have to transform one into the other. You don't have to spend any extra. When I presented this [idea] in Rio, everybody loved it. They kept asking question after question. And after this, I was invited by the other candidate city, Paris. They want to pick up the [social businesses] idea quickly.
So, when any country seeks to host the Olympics in the future it will have to meet this standard?
Absolutely. Without meeting this standard, they cannot compete. That means you have to be better than the others. This is important as sports are about competitions. So you compete to do good for the young people.
That's another big step forward for you.
Yes. This is very important. Now we function as a global base.
So, for example, if we are discussing how to set up a business centre in Thailand, we can invite the Thailand Olympic Committee to come and talk about it because they will have already learned about [social business] from the IOC. [Everyone] will be speaking the same language. Previously, it was an isolated system, now it's part of a bigger picture. Thailand has sports federations, clubs. Every club can do what they like [what suits them in terms of social business].
How did Kasetsart University get interested?
Again, because of the work, because of the lectures … people have seen me talk about this. That's why they wanted to come and visit us. So they came to Bangladesh.
What is the difference between your AIT [Asian Institute of Technology] and the equivalent at Kasetsart in Thailand?
Ours is an international body and not much involved with the local population. The one at Kasetsart here is for locals. Business gets involved here with local students. It's more basic, more close to Bangkok, close to Thailand. Once more [people in Thailand] use it, it will become powerful. There will be more resources, more decision-making power, more social power. AIT has so many countries to [cover]. Here it's more university based.
Resources and preparation are important?
Social business is not about big money, but rather creative ideas. We can start with small one, simple ones. Then social business can expand, and the good thing about it is that the funds you receive are recycled. They don't disappear. So, after you start, it will keep running by itself.
What role do you envision for the centre at Kasetsart, which is focused on academic pursuits, not social action?
You just initiate the project. Both academic and action-based. They can start "action research". You do it, and find out, and record it.
One conclusion I have come to - and others have cheered it -is that the present system and academia [too] is not sustainable. So before it destroys itself, we should fix it in a way to help people.
So the idea is to maximise the profit - and the shareholders expect that?
Exactly. So, all the money can be profitable. Today, one per cent of the world's population owns more wealth than the bottom 50 per cent. This makes people unhappy. People say, "I didn't get anything, yet I worked hard. I don't have job."
That's why Donald Trump is so popular. He raises these issues and exploits them efficiently.
Yes. Doing this will make you popular. They [promise to] stop Muslims, stop immigration. They stop everything because they want to take care of everything.
You [have to] blame somebody because you have no explanation for why you don't have enough. You blame "those other people" - in Europe, the [foreign] Europeans who are coming in and taking away jobs, money. But the system is such that even if you stop everything, you still have the same problems. So before it blows up like a time bomb, why don't we fix it? Social business is one way to do that.
Are you optimistic?
I'm optimistic. You have to protect your planet. You can't give it away. Here I think of the idea of "Three Zeros". The first zero is zero poverty, the second is zero unemployment and number three is zero carbon emissions.
Two of them have been accepted as targets by the United Nations. Zero poverty is already there, while zero carbon emissions is what the Paris [Climate Conference] dealt with, although a [target] date has yet to be fixed. Only zero unemployment has not been paid attention to.
Human beings are not born to work for somebody else. Many jobs require no creative power, but in reality we are creative beings. That means you must create jobs for yourself and others. So young people are not job seekers, they are job creators. In Bangladesh, we employ young people to come up with business ideas. We try to make them successful and when they are successful, we take the money back.
Anyone and everyone can start a social business - in Bangladesh, and in Thailand? What if they fail?
Yes, anybody can do it. If you tell young people they can only do certain jobs, you mislead them. Social business will help them. Failure is part of the business. To fail does not mean you fail forever. You fail and you just learn.
Have you visited anywhere in Thailand that could forge the social business pattern?
Everywhere. Bangladesh, Thailand or the Philippines have the same thing. All issues are related to poverty, healthcare, women, housing, environment, education or technology. So it's up to local interpretation of the kind of poverty you have, the kind of support you have. Government support is the kind that gives money. It's not a big deal. It's not sustainable. It does not solve the problem. It only hides the problem. Hiding problems and solving problems are two different things.
But politicians like to give out money…
Politicians love it because it's easy: if you give money you become a hero. But they are not adjusting - the real issue is the solution of the problem. Taking care of people's difficulties is part of the duty of society and the government. However, we have to make sure that people are not permanent recipients of state charity.
You try to reverse that direction by exploiting the power of the grassroots.
You have your own power in yourself, you have all the creative power, all the energy. Make sure you can stand on your own feet and feed your future. This should be the message.
How do you explain the difference between social enterprise and social business?
"Social enterprise" is used in a crude, general way. You have social enterprise and you make money. You can have social enterprise and it's not business at all. It can be a charity programme. It's a loose term.
Social business is a business which must be sustainable. So it will not give dividends. It's non-dividend company [in order] to solve human problems for the company.
Anyone can own shares in a social business - foreman, housewife, taxi driver?
And the purpose is to meet a profit goal?
It's profit for the company, not for the person. Business has to survive financially?
Yes, it has to survive, they have to get money back.
Who ensures it survives financially?
If it can't survive financially, it's not a business at all. It should be a business.
How does one choose the right kind of businesses to get involved in?
It depends on your own priorities. Anything. You can make a list of 50 titles and pick one. The one is
the problem. For example, let's solve the problem of old people: they have been abandoned, no one pays attention to them, they have no money, no healthcare. [Let's say] you are a doctor, you know these people and you just want to do this for someone in your family, who you see every day.
You have tried to persuade big brands around the world to get into social business.
I've done social business [programmes] with big companies such as Uniqlo. [Whether with] big companies, local companies, joint ventures, small businesses, it does not hurt you [to promote social business]. You can bring money in from your foundations, your shareholders, something like that.
And the products sold under social business practice are the same?
Those products have brand names printed on them. Like yoghurt: if you are selling rotten yoghurt, the world will know you are selling rotten yoghurt to poor people. So you must be very careful about what you sell, your quality and your brand. You have to protect your brand. We have to make [the product] top class and at the same time solve the problem of people in need.
Are you using persuasion to put more pressure on these companies?
Sometimes it's not me doing the persuading. [Instead] the companies want to discuss topics for [social business]. They confirm the business must have a purpose [behind it]. I tell them it sounds good, but it's still not good enough. I explain that … it's the people who are the purpose.
Business does not have a mind. The mind is in the people.
People's purpose is happiness?
Author's Summary on Creating a World Without Poverty
Published on: theguardian
Date: 12 May 2013
For Bangladeshis, the tragedy at the garment factory in Savar is a symbol of our failure as a nation. The crack that caused the collapse of the building has shown us that if we don't face up to the cracks in our own systems, we as a nation will get lost in the debris. Today, the souls of those who lost their lives in Rana Plaza are watching what we are doing and listening to what we say. The last breath of those souls surrounds us.
Did we learn anything at all from this terrible loss of life? Or will we have completed our duty by merely expressing our deep sympathy? What should we do, now that news of a deadly fire in another factory in Dhaka reaches us?
Important questions have been raised about the future of the garment industry. Pope Francis has said buyers are treating the garment workers like slave labourers. A very large foreign buyer, Disney, has decided to pull out of Bangladesh. Others may follow. If that happens, it will severely damage our social and economic future. This industry has brought about immense change in our society by transforming the lives of women. We cannot allow it to be destroyed. Instead, Bangladeshis must be united as a nation to strengthen the garment industry, and foreign companies must play their part too.
I propose that foreign buyers jointly fix a minimum international wage for the industry. This might be about 50 cents an hour, twice the level typically found in Bangladesh. This minimum wage would be an integral part of reforming the industry, which would help to prevent future tragedies. We have to make international companies understand that while the workers are physically inBangladesh, they are contributing their labour to the businesses: they are stakeholders. Physical separation should not be grounds to ignore the wellbeing of this labour.
Of course, we have to be prepared for a negative market reaction. Some will argue that Bangladesh would lose the competitiveness it has gained by offering the cheapest labour. To retain its competitiveness, Bangladesh would have to increase its attractiveness in other ways, for example, by increasing productivity and specialised labour skills, regaining buyers' trust, and ensuring workers' welfare. But until we are able to fix an international minimum wage, we will not be able to pull workers from the grievous category of "slave labour" the pope placed them in.
Gaining support for the minimum wage won't be easy, but through sincere discussions with politicians, business leaders, citizens, church groups and the media in consumer countries, it can be achieved. In the past, I have tried to convince foreign buyers – but without success. Now after the Savar tragedy, the issue has gained a new urgency. I want to mobilise my international and Bangladeshi friends to make stronger and more persistent efforts this time. It wouldn't be necessary for all the companies to agree on the minimum wage at the same time. If some leading firms take the initiative, it would start the ball rolling.
There is also another practical way to help ensure better standards for Bangladeshi garment workers. Let's say a garment factory produces and sells a piece of clothing for $5, which is then packaged and shipped to New York. This $5 includes not only the production, packaging, shipment, profit and management but also indirectly covers the share that goes to the cotton farmers, yarn mills, and the cost of dying and weaving.
When US customers buy this item from a shop for $35, they feel happy that they've got a bargain. But everyone who was involved in the production collectively received $5. Another $30 was added in the US for taking the product to the final consumer. Now, with a little effort, we could make a huge impact in the lives of workers. Would a consumer in a shopping mall feel upset if they were asked to pay $35.50 instead of $35? My answer is no, they won't even notice. If we could create a Garment Workers Welfare Trust in Bangladesh with that additional 50 cents, we could resolve most of the problems workers face – safety, work environment, pensions, healthcare, housing, their children's health, education, childcare, retirement, old age and travel. Everything could be taken care of through this trust.
Bangladesh exports garments worth $18bn each year. If all the garment buyers accept this proposal, the trust would receive $1.8bn each year. That's $500 in the trust for each of the 3.6 million workers. All we have to do is to sell the item of clothing for $35.50 instead of $35. A barely noticeable change to the price could work wonders.
Of course, international buyers may argue that extra 50 cents would reduce the demand for the product and that their profits would shrink. But we would offer them an arrangement whereby their sales would go up, instead of down. The extra 50 cents could be a marketing tool to make the product more attractive to consumers. We could put a special tag on each piece of clothing, saying: "From the happy workers of Bangladesh, with pleasure. Workers' wellbeing guaranteed." It could be endorsed by Grameen, the NGO Brac, or some other respected international organisation. There could be a beautiful logo to go with it.
When consumers saw that a well-known and trusted institution had taken responsibility to ensure both the present and the future of the workers who produced the garment, they wouldn't mind paying 50 cents extra.Consumers would be proud to support the product and the company, rather than feeling guilty about wearing a product made under harsh working conditions.
I do not expect all companies will immediately implement my proposal. I hope a few come forward to experiment, and that their country's governments, organisations that work to protect labour rights, citizens groups, church groups and the media will step forward to support it, too. This issue should attract attention more urgently now in light of the deaths in Savar.
Pulling industry out of Bangladesh is not a solution. It would be unfortunate for Bangladesh and for the foreign buyers. There is no sense in them leaving a country that has benefited a great deal from their business, a country that could have continuing rapid and visible economic and social progress because of them, a country that would always remain grateful to them.
I believe they would rather remain in Bangladesh, and take pride in creating a new society and economy. Changes are taking place in the world of business. Even if they are tiny changes, they are coming nonetheless. We can accelerate that change.
The Savar tragedy has created a huge wound and deep pain in the minds of the people of this country. I pray that from this deep pain we will find a way to resolve the problems in our national life. When we watched the tragedy unfold on our television screens – the hundreds of helpless people dead and injured – it made us aware of what our dysfunctional system has led us to. After all this, will we just keep on watching as it keeps on happening, again and again?
When will we come to our senses?
Interviewed by: Art Dalglish
Published on: AARP Bulletin
Date: July 29, 2010
In Business for All
Interview with Muhammad Yunus, author of Building Social Business: The New Kind of Capitalism That Serves Humanity’s Most Pressing Needs
It all started with a gift of $27.
In 1974, Muhammad Yunus was an economics professor at Chittagong University in Bangladesh when a combination of war, natural disasters and an international oil crisis toppled his country into a devastating famine. How could he simply teach elegant theories of the free market, he thought, while hunger and poverty threatened the lives of millions?
Venturing into the countryside to experiment with social programs, he found a woman in the village of Jobra who was borrowing from a local moneylender to finance her tiny business handcrafting bamboo stools. But she could borrow only at a very high interest rate and by agreeing to sell her work to the lender at a price he set, leaving her with almost no profit.
Yunus and his students found a total of 42 villagers trapped in the same kind of arrangement. He realized that he could release all of them from their economic bondage by reaching into his pocket for the equivalent of $27 and paying off all their loans.
Inspired by this example, Yunus created Grameen Bank to make low-interest loans to the poorest of the poor, people with no collateral or credit history. Today it serves more than 8 million people—97 percent of them women—in every village in Bangladesh, extending more than $100 million a month in loans averaging about $200. Grameen is also helping to spread the idea known as microcredit throughout the world—and in 2006, Yunus and the bank were awarded the Nobel Peace Price for their accomplishments.
Seeking new ways for the power of the market to help the poor, Yunus landed on the concept of “social businesses.” These companies operate like any other, competing in the marketplace to make a profit, with two big exceptions: The investors agree not to take any money from the company beyond their original investment, and the overriding goal is to deliver a particular social benefit to people in need.
Grameen now operates dozens of social businesses in Bangladesh. These companies provide affordable nutritious foods, extend telecommunications services into isolated rural areas, export hand-loomed traditional fabrics, and much more.
Their effects are being felt in Bangladesh’s improving poverty rate. But Yunus’ ultimate goal, at age 70, is to eliminate poverty throughout the world by 2050.
Yunus introduced his ideas about social business in a 2007 book, Creating a World Without Poverty, and expands them in the recently published Building Social Business.
In a conversation with the AARP Bulletin, he discussed his ideas and how they apply to older Americans.
- How could social businesses address the problems that older people face?
- Old age can be an attractive area for social business. In Eastern societies, a family not only takes care of its own old members, but the old remain important members of the family. In Western countries, the young people move away and old people are left alone. When they cannot take care of themselves, they are sent to old-age homes. Through their social businesses they can participate in activities where they will remain surrounded and admired by young people all the time.
- Why would they be attracted to this kind of business?
- During their working years, people generally are engaged in a rat race, chasing success. In old age, the rat race is over. People have created their financial base. They may feel that this is the time to devote themselves totally to the benefit of others in the society. They can use their wealth to do something sustainable, which will remain beyond their lives. Social business provides that framework.
- What qualities could older people bring?
- Most old people are physically and mentally capable. They have good ideas, creative energy and plenty of unrestricted time. They can create social businesses to prove to themselves they can significantly contribute to the society rather than feeling like “unwanted” people. The best quality is their experience. After all, they have gone through their life. They have seen many things that the new generation has not seen yet, or may never see.
- What rewards might they enjoy?
- When a person is retired, he or she is a free person, not bound by the rigid framework of working life. He can bring out the things that he has been holding inside him all these years. That’s a tremendous freedom! He can set his agenda, his priorities, his working hours, everything. He can form a group of like-minded people. Technology helps: Facebook, Twitter, chat rooms, Skype and so forth.
- Since poverty is so much deeper elsewhere in the world, should Americans focus on social problems abroad rather than in their own country?
- The best way to start is to start in one’s own neighborhood. You don’t have to jump off to another place that you know very little about.
- For instance?
- You can start a social business whose objective would be to take 10 people out of welfare by offering them employment. This is one issue everybody is interested in. If you can find the solution for it in a sustainable business way, you would be a hero for the whole world!
- Why can’t normal businesses do this?
- Conventional profit-making businesses do not come forward to start a business unless they have at least a 30 percent return on their investment. But a social-business investor can operate anywhere, as long as there is a positive return. As long as you cover your costs and solve a social problem, you can be in social business.
- Can social business flourish in America without some effort first being made to teach people to care less about themselves and more about their society?
- Whether I am an American or I am a Bangladeshi, we all have the same basic human qualities. When I talk about selflessness, I’m talking about the selflessness that is embedded in all human beings. You may argue that Americans have successfully locked it up inside. All we have to do is to find a way to unlock it.
- What is that way?
- When I see you are helping five people get out of welfare, suddenly I am thinking, hey, I could have done that, too. So demonstration is one thing that can start loosening that lock.
- What else?
- We can also start in childhood, by putting social business stories in storybooks, textbooks and other teaching materials. Let everybody know that there are two kinds of businesses: a business to make money for oneself, and then there is a business to make an impact on other people’s lives. A child may start to think, I like that idea of social business. I would like to do something like that.
- How could you get these ideas across to a big audience?
- Maybe some moviemakers would make a movie of a whole city that has been transformed by social business, the first in the U.S. which does not have anybody on welfare. The movie may make people aware that they can create things that will change things in a big way—to start realizing that they are part of a bigger whole. Once we start looking at us this way, the locked-up part in us starts opening up.
- Give us a peek over the horizon. Are you developing other projects that could help achieve your goal of ending poverty?
- I am concentrating on two things. I think technology is changing the whole world very fast. But all the power of technology is concentrated in the hands of businesses. Obviously they use this power for making more money. I’m looking for how technology can solve problems.
- For example?
- Creating a digital Aladdin’s lamp. Every poor person will have easy access to it. A poor old woman in a Bangladeshi village will touch this lamp, and the digital genie will come out of it and say, “What can I do for you, ma’am?” The old lady says, “I want to sell the baskets that I have made, but I cannot find buyers.” The genie goes out and finds the buyers.
- Is this possible?
- That technology is right here today! Look at the iPad, look at the iPhone—you touch it, and it happens. But that genie serves the privileged people like us. If I can use this same technology to teach the illiterate people around the globe how to read and write, how to connect with each other, how to send written messages, how to get health advice and so on, we can apply this technology to solve many of our problems.
- What else are you doing?
- I am also focusing on the emerging new generation—how to prepare them to become the kind of people who will not remain obsessed with their own lives but will think of the problems of the world. Today’s generation is more interested in issues of other people and wants to make a difference in the world. They’re looking for a meaningful life. We can make them believe that each one of them has the capacity to change the whole world. Social business can help them find it.
- How could AARP members participate in social business as an organization?
- An organization like AARP can provide opportunities for channeling energy. It can encourage creation of five-member, 10-member “social business clubs” to find solutions to problems. It can encourage creation of “social business centers” where 50 or more people can meet together and look for solutions for taking people out of welfare, or taking drug addicts out of addiction, or taking care of very old people who cannot care for themselves.
- How could AARP, or any organization, make this happen?
- Hold a social business laboratory, so that our people can come and discuss what social business means and how to design a social business. It is already happening all over the world. You can join the network. We can connect you to people, and if you have questions, we can respond. Just write to us at the Yunus Centre, and we can connect you. You can also visit our website, www.yunuscentre.org.
How Legal Steps Can Help to Pave the Way to Ending Poverty
By Muhammad Yunus
Dr. Muhammad Yunus is founder and managing director of Grameen Bank in Dhaka, Bangladesh. He is the 2006 Nobel Peace Laureate (shared with Grameen Bank).
There is no better time for a serious discussion of how the law and lawyers can enable the poor to help themselves—throughout the world, and especially in the United States.
Right now, highly regulated banks in the developed world (many of them in the United States) are having trouble pricing and trading complex mortgage-backed securities. At the same time, however, trust-based microfinance banks like Bangladesh’s Grameen Bank continue to do well, unaffected by the financial uncertainty in the rest of the world.
How the Trust-Based Grameen Bank Works
The Grameen Bank issues loans using very simple trust-based financial arrangements; no legal documents are involved because, in part, Grameen’s borrowers are poor and have no collateral. So, Grameen relies on trust and the positive incentives of continued access to credit and other support to ensure repayments—and Grameen’s repayment rates have averaged better than 98 percent. Because Grameen’s loans are based on trust and positive incentives and no legal documents, Grameen has never used lawyers or courts to collect any of its loans. Grameen has about 7.5 million borrowers in Bangladesh, and has loaned approximately $7 billion since its inception, with an average loan size of about $150.
When a potential borrower wants a loan, she has to form a group of five or join such a group of borrowers from her neighborhood and agree to meet with that group once a week. Each loan is made to an individual in the group and is the responsibility of that one individual, but others in the group cannot get their next loans if any member of the group is late in her payments.
Grameen’s borrowers are also required to maintain a regular savings plan, and today its borrowers and their nonborrowing neighbors as a group have $150 in savings for every $100 in loans outstanding. Today, the Grameen Bank is funded by the savings deposits of the poor. It has been profitable for all but three of the last twenty-five years.
Grameen’s interest rates for loans and savings are clearly available to all at www.grameen.com. All loans are intended for income-producing activities, housing, or education, not for consumption. The basic interest rate for most business loans is 20 percent. In addition, Grameen has issued more than 600,000 housing loans at 8 percent and about 20,000 educational loans at 5 percent.
Grameen also has arranged loans for about 100,000 beggars, whom it calls “struggling members.” These loans are interest-free and offered without time limits. The goal is to encourage these members to cease begging and to become regular savers and borrowers. To date, 10 percent of these borrowers have left begging behind completely.
The Grameen bank is 96 percent owned by the borrowers, 97 percent of whom are women. Nine of its twelve directors are women.
Its bankers, using bicycles or motorcycles, go to a borrower’s neighborhood for the weekly meetings. Typically, ten or so groups of five borrowers (sixty individual borrowers total) meet every week for about an hour to pay back existing loans, to receive new loans, and to exchange ideas in an open and transparent way in front of the whole group of fellow borrowers. The approach is practical also because Grameen’s borrowers typically cannot read financial statements.
Grameen’s borrowers have established some of their own rules. Known as the Sixteen Decisions, many of these rules have to do with the health of the family and the care and education of children (aeewww.grameen.com for details).
Complex Isn’t Always Better
In view of the general financial uncertainty in the world, one wonders how helpful complex legal contracts have proven to be for the subprime borrowers or for the lenders who are currently experiencing difficulties. How useful are these contracts if the transactions are not ultimately based on trust between bankers and borrowers who know each other? In 50 percent of the current housing foreclosures in the United States, no direct communication exists between the borrower and the lender. Grameen’s bankers and borrowers meet and look each other in the eye each and every week during the group meetings.
One must also ask how successful all of the disclosure statements are if they are buried in a large pile of documents that are so long and complex that no one, including the bankers, seems to fully understand the implications of the interest rate adjustments in the documentation. So many of the more complex mortgages and mortgage-based securities in the United States are faltering or failing. But Grameen’s much simpler trust-based loans to poor women with no collateral seem to be doing well.
A similar situation occurred in 1997, when microfinance continued to grow steadily despite the financial instability that accompanied the Asian currency crisis. The macroeconomies in a number of Asian countries declined steeply when a bubble of speculative lending burst, but the microfinance organizations in those countries continued to thrive. During a financial crisis, microfinance organizations can be an island of stability.
In a recent meeting, U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke commented that the United States has less of an informal or unregulated sector than developing countries do. The discussion turned to the importance of a culture of thrift, hard work, savings, and mutual aid, and to whether those qualities remained important in the United States. Federal Reserve Board governor Randall Kroszner, who was also in attendance, cited the book From Mutual Aid to the Welfare State by David T. Beito. Beito’s book documents the importance of thrift, hard work, and savings in the growth of the United States, where local community-based voluntary mutual aid societies provided bottom-up delivery of health care and financial services and promoted a culture of thrift and work for the poor.
What makes the trust-based Grameen bottom-up model so valuable is that it builds human, family, and social capital by helping the poor (poor women in particular) to help each other in a voluntary and businesslike fashion that builds respect and self-esteem. Grameen has learned that the poor can take care of themselves, and that they can support each other and make important contributions to society. The resulting knowledge, experience, confidence, pride, and self-respect have become the basis on which Grameen has successfully built its lending program.
Where the Legal Profession Can Help
Lawyers can provide vital help to encourage and enable lower-income people to take care of themselves in the United States and internationally. The needs are universal, but laws differ among countries, so perhaps lawyers can form groups in each country to develop or revise laws that ultimately help the poor to help themselves. Perhaps one group of lawyers can be formed for each of these or similar objectives in every country where such changes are needed. Here are some areas to focus on:
- Simpler laws for microfinance programs. Everywhere in the world, simpler laws are needed to allow microfinance programs to receive savings deposits and re-lend that money. The right regulations should allow a microfinance organization to expand through savings deposits. Expansion of lending through savings deposits would be the single most important step in expanding microfinance globally. In the United States, credit union regulations might work for microfinance organizations, and Grameen America is studying that option. The best option would be to create a new law exclusively for establishing microfinance banks for low-income people and people on welfare.
- Laws focused on individual borrowers. In the United States in particular, low-income borrowers find that starting and managing a small business can be difficult because laws and regulations either are intended for larger businesses or simply are not essential. For example, in the state of Louisiana, a person cannot arrange and sell more than one variety of flowers in a vase for resale without taking a test to get a state license. This regulation discourages new entrepreneurs, reduces competition, and keeps the cost of flower arrangements high. The license could be voluntary and optional, allowing the end purchaser of that flower arrangement to decide if he wants flowers arranged by a licensed or unlicensed businessperson.
- Waiver medallions for the poor. Very poor people should be entitled to sort of waiver medallion that enables them to take care of themselves through self-employment opportunities with minimal or no interference from laws that weren’t designed with them in mind. Such a medallion would entitle the very poor to do what they need to do in search of earning their own legal livelihood, and no law should be allowed to interfere with that initiative. Free trade and special enterprise zones are common. Let’s work to give the poor the individual right to operate in a legal interference–free zone to make a living for themselves.
- Welfare and Medicaid laws designed to encourage independence. Welfare and Medicaid laws often too steeply limit how much a low-income person can save or earn. These laws should be designed to help people gain self-respect and independence by taking care of themselves through income-producing activities. Instead, the welfare laws seem designed to keep people on welfare longer than necessary. Creative policy changes should be put in place to help people help themselves and to lose these subsidies gradually rather than all at once.
- Simpler laws for the poor. Laws should be kept as simple as possible for low-income people in particular, to motivate them to take the next steps to help themselves.
- Non-governmental loan programs. Governments should create an enabling environment for microcredit programs without getting directly involved in lending money to the poor. It’s extremely difficult for a political entity to recover money that it has loaned to poor people. Some people look at government as an agency that is required to take care of them. Thus, the important discipline of paying back a loan is lost in a government program. Politicians by necessity are more focused on awarding loans and securing votes than in making sure loans are repaid. For all these reasons, loan programs should be left to the non-governmental, private sector, and social businesses.
- Tax laws that encourage social businesses. Social businesses are designed exclusively to maximize benefits to customers, rather than maximizing profits. Social businesses serve social needs in a businesslike manner. Such a business is sustainable and makes a profit, and the investor gets back the capital he invested, over time. Profits in a social business are entirely reinvested to expand the existing social business or start new ones. A charity dollar can be used only once, but a social business investment dollar is recycled indefinitely. Current tax laws offer tax benefits to charitable organizations. New tax laws are needed that put social businesses on at least an equal footing with charities.
- Simpler visa, immigration, and passport systems. The current visa, immigration, and passport systems worldwide are a great source of frustration and wasted time and resources. So many countries want some of Grameen’s 27,000 experienced microfinance employees to come and build programs, but those same countries have complicated and expensive visa procedures. The children of developed countries want to come to Bangladesh to study microfinance. The children of Bangladesh’s poor borrowers want to travel and go to international schools. Simple programs that allow people to travel more easily to share what they know should be devised. The goal should be a world where people can travel freely without the need for passports and visas.
- Tariffs and trade barriers that favor the less powerful. Tariffs and trade barriers seem to favor the powerful over the less powerful. The relatively poor country of Bangladesh has to pay one of the highest tariffs on its textile exports to the United States. The goal should be to help poor countries to do more business with rich countries, rather than letting them depend on their foreign aid.
We must all believe in people and their ability to change their own lives. All people, including the poor, have enormous capacity to help themselves. Despite appearances, deep inside every human being exists a precious treasure of initiative and creativity waiting to be discovered, to be unleashed, to change life for the better. If we look at each and every poor person from this perspective, we will find enormous possibilities for this world.
Interview taken at: Sa-Dhan's National Microfinance Conference 2009 on March 30
Professor Muhammad Yunus, founder and managing director of Grameen Bank, has been a great inspiration to the entire microfinance community. Microfinance Focus congratulates Dr Yunus and takes the opportunity to republish an exclusive interview that Dr. Yunus had given to it on March 30 on the sidelines of the Sa-Dhan's National Microfinance Conference 2009 in New Delhi. It is a show piece of Dr yunus's views on microfinance that will have an enduring impact on the community forever:
MF FOCUS: Microfinance is an established and recognized instrument to fight poverty today. Many people are confident and hope that poverty can be eliminated through it. Isn't it too simple just to rely on microfinance?
Dr. Yunus: You don't have to. Nobody is forcing you to do that. If somebody wants to do Microcredit, fine. I wouldn't say this is something everybody should have. Nobody says it is the only solution. Human beings are very multi-dimensional. Microfinance is one of the many, many things.
MF FOCUS: Social business is an additional way. Do you identify enough potential for social business to make a real difference, globally?
Dr. Yunus: Yes of course. Definitely it is a global and not a local issue. There are two kinds of businesses: One is business to make money, the other business is to change the world. This one is with the intention of changing the world and not to have any personal gain from that. It is all dedicated to make a difference. It is addressing a social issue, to resolve it. You can do that.
MF FOCUS: What are the factors that make social businesses successful?
Dr. Yunus: A good business plan, good ideas and use the creativity in the most creative way.
MF FOCUS: Microfinance as well as Social businesses have to be highly efficient. How is it possible to maintain or re-introduce the social mission back into microfinance?
Dr. Yunus: Whenever something gets popular, actually catches attention, there are people who take advantage of that and misuse it. It happens in everything. When Big brands are popular, it gets imitated by fake ones. Same thing happens with microcredit. People name it microcredit but in fact it is not microcredit. It is something completely different.
People have to be made aware of what is microcredit and why it is important to stick to the real microcredit and not the one which has a different motivation. But while you are looking at the microcredit itself, even good people may have wrong ideas, which makes them shift away from the whole idea, the mission. We have to be very careful and remind ourselves, what is our mission. That is why we have meetings (Sa-dhan conference) like this, to rediscover your mission and then re-adjust your work to the mission.
MF FOCUS: To build an enabling environment for social entrepreneurs, what should governments do and what regulations do you
count as important?
Dr. Yunus: It is very important. Very Important! Regulation is very important but at the same time regulation can be stifling, destroy the whole business by over-regulating and making it impossible to function. It is like a mother and a child. You know how you have to change your child to do the right things. At the same time you should not control your children so that it loses all its initative. It is like becoming a prisoner in the hands of the mother. Regulation should be promotional, a Cheerleader. At the same time make sure you do the right thing, that you don't drift away from the real principles. It is a tough job in the sense you have to balance both how to encourage, and at the same time how to restrain.
MF FOCUS: Due to the financial and economic crisis, development funds were cut by the North (developed countries). Where do you see the responsibilty of rich countries in fighting poverty? Where should they act?
Dr. Yunus: See the Southern countries didn't create the crisis, they are the victims of the crisis.It is only one country which created the crisis and it has spread all over. Those who were involved in creating this crisis also have a moral responsibility to make sure that the victims are supported . There are lot of people sufferring, that has to be taken care of. Now they are busy of making bailout packages and all the support. And i am saying At least 10 % of all bailout packages every where should be earmarkerd for victims in the Third World. These things have to be built in the system.
MF FOCUS: Apart from poverty there are many topics, which can be solved or bargained only at an international level, Climate
Change for example. Nicholas Stern is convinced, we have to solve both topics together: Poverty and Climate Change.
Dr. Yunus: Well, financial crisis is the latest crisis. 2008 had the food crisis, which is still there. Simply front pages have been taken over by financial crisis and have pushed away all discussion about the food crisis. 2008 was also the year of energy crisis - the oil prices shot up to the sky. It didn't disappear, it is lying low for a while. And also this is perpetuating environmental crisis. All these crises have their roots in the same thing.
These are not separate crises. You have to adjust the root causes than adjusting all of them. The root causes are the wrong structure, the capitalism structure that we have. We have to redesign the structure we are operating in, which is wrong and unsustainable lifestyle. We have to take the hard decision! We and each one of us must take a decision on this planet. And also we should inculcate among our children a simple way of living. We should not live in a way, that it harms another person. Once you take this decision, everything will be solved. We have no right to live a life which is harming anybody else. It is like traffic laws. You can't have a car and knock everybody off the road. There's a rule that you have to drive safely, so that you don't harm anybody. Same thing is for living on this planet. We are sharing with each other.
MF FOCUS: Grameen Bank has moved to Grameen II methodology, but still Grameen replicators in India follow the Grameen I model. Do you think they should explore such flexible methodology?
Dr. Yunus: It is up to them, what they like I cannot advise. We thought we can solve some of the problems. we see the opportunity that we have by relaxing our procedures and rules to make it more friendly.
MF FOCUS: What is the next level for Micro finance and how to take it forward?
Dr. Yunus: Next level is to enter into insurance, pension funds, second generation issues young children are coming up and we should try to make them into better citizens to deal with life.
MF FOCUS: Savings product is much needed by the poor. Regulation is cautious not to allow collection of savings by certain categories of MFIs. What is your opinion?
Dr. Yunus: Savings product is very important. Change the law!!! Keep on insisting that the system is right.
MF FOCUS: With Microfinance Focus, the monthly magazine, we are working on information exchange and trying to promote best
practices in the sector. How important are projects like Microfinance Focusfor the sector?
Dr. Yunus: Yeah! This is a good initiative. Communicate I mean let people know what is happening, what is right, what is wrong, so they can participate in debate, discuss, make it more efficient, more cost effective and more friendly.
Muhammad Yunus, the founder of Grameen Bank and a proponent of 'social business', a not-for-profit business model to combat unemployment and other social evils, does not mince his words when it comes to micro-credit for the poor. The Nobel Peace Prize winner is dismissive about some recent innovations in the microfinance sector and warns about the direction they are taking. He also believes that micro-credit should be kept outside political influence to run it as a sound financial institution. "The best scenario," he says, "is when a micro-credit bank is owned by the poor." Excerpts from an interview with Shamni Pande:
Q. You started the concept of BoP and micro credit revolution. How have they panned out and what are some of the key takeaways for you?
A. I must first clarify that we do not use the term 'Bottom of the Pyramid', or BoP, as it is being used by other groups who see it as a market opportunity. I feel their approach gives a wrong impression about micro-credit. Unlike them, we don't see it as a market opportunity, but as an opportunity to get people out of poverty. Our effort has been to fight loan sharks in the village, bring financial services to the poor, especially women, so they can start generating income. As our activities expanded, we created Grameen Bank, which now has presence across Bangladesh with over 2,500 branches. We have 8.5 million borrowers, 97 per cent of whom are women, and the Bank is owned by these borrowers. It lends over $1.5 billion and all the money comes from within its own system. It does not take money from the government. We also encourage savings and, every week, an account holder has to put some money in his or her account. Today, the total savings is nearly $2 billion. We also encourage mothers to send their children to school, we give them higher education loans and some children go on to becoming doctors, engineers, etc.
The idea of micro credit spread both within the country and outside as it was picked up by many NGOs. Now, micro credit has become a global phenomenon. Along the way we had some problems, such as the fact that people misused the concept of micro credit and used it for the wrong purposes. They used it to make money for themselves, rather than seeing it as an opportunity to help people come out of poverty. We have got into controversies while trying to explain that their approach was not what micro credit is all about. They should not even call their models micro credit. Some such activity happened in India as well about four years ago, particularly in Andhra Pradesh. It had made headlines across the world. Reports said micro credit in India is finished, and this created tensions and problems. I tried to explain to the world that the problem was not about micro credit in India, but in just one state. Although there was a large concentration of micro credit organisations in that one state, it was not that all players were involved in it. Only a few micro credit players led to the problem as they wanted to make money for themselves, by floating initial public offering (IPOs).
Luckily, a commission was formed and the RBI stepped in, and, luckily, the problem is now resolved. But we still need to take certain steps. One, a legislation is still pending (for the past 3-4 years) on micro credit. I feel it is a good thing that it has not been passed, as it is not a good legislation to begin with. It needs to add certain things. For instance, the legislation should allow micro credit banks to be created, so that they do not have to remain dependent on money from outside.
Commercial banks will never take up micro credit in a big way. They will always do it in a small, as a token (activity). Therefore, I feel there should be a legislation that allows a separate bank to be created - a micro credit bank. They can take deposits and lend money to people, but they do not have to depend on donors to give them money. Once, that door is opened it can become a fast-expanding micro credit programme.
Q. But don't you see encouraging signals? The Indian government is encouraging banks to operate in the micro credit space. Bandhan has already got a banking licence. Many other micro credit players, such as SKS and Vikram Akula, are also applying for licences. Aren't these steps in the right direction?
A. No, they are not. Akula's initiative is in the wrong direction to begin with. And Bandhan, too, is taking a conventional banking license. That would require a lot of investments and clearances, such as hiring of experts to run a bank. But in doing so, you are hiring the wrong kind of people for micro credit. That is a wrong start. In my view, one should start a micro credit bank with a mandate that it would appoint a CEO who has at least a decade's experience in micro credit. A decade of experience in commercial banking is useless. In fact, it will be counter-productive. There should be a separate law to create micro credit banks because the existing law allows the creation of banks for the rich. You need a banking law to create banks for the poor. These are two different things.
Q. You think India does not have that framework in place?
A. It's not about what I think. It is about reality. That's the fact. Now that the legislation is still to be enacted, we can add this bit (a separate banking law for micro credit) in the pending legislation. Once the legislation happens, another thing will automatically come up - having an independent regulatory authority for micro credit. Since they are given privileges to take deposits, and so on, the independent authority becomes very important. You can say that you have an independent banking regulatory authority, why don't you let them do it. Then, again, we'll make a mistake. The existing banking authority is looking after banking for the rich, how they need to behave, etc. How will it know about how the banks for poor should behave? So, you need a separate banking law and a separate authority to monitor the sector.
Q. But Micro Finance Institution Network have been proactive in taking self regulatory measures. Where is the problem?
A. It is a good step, but a small step. It does not solve the problem of sourcing of funds to lend. Self-regulation would mean, 'we shall not do this, and not do that'. But who will stop you? I am doing micro credit, you're doing micro credit. Who are we to tell each other? It sounds good and they have good intentions as well, but, in reality, it is not effective. This is so, because some of them are leaders in the micro finance industry. Every community has its own hierarchy, so who will go and tell them if something is wrong.
Q. How does one deal when the political system gets in the way? You had to deal with it back home, and here, too, there was a view that certain politicians felt threatened with the growth of micro credit in Andhra Pradesh. They came down heavily on the industry as private money lenders were affected.Q. How does one deal when the political system gets in the way? You had to deal with it back home, and here, too, there was a view that certain politicians felt threatened with the growth of micro credit in Andhra Pradesh. They came down heavily on the industry as private money lenders were affected.
A. The problems surfaced because an opportunity was created. And politicians, in turn, saw a good opportunity to make mileage out of it. It is good to keep micro credit at a distance from political influences. Because when political influence gets in, financial soundness starts eroding. For instance, every politician will demand that interest rates should be kept very-very low. It is a popular thing to say for them. The poor do not have the ability to pay. So, they will ask why the industry is charging them for credit and demand interest-free loans. This is the direction, politics takes you in. But the reality is that one has to cover the cost of running an organisation, otherwise you'll not get anywhere. The other thing is that if you let micro finance alone, then SKS-type things happen. They charge higher interest rate and this harms the motive of micro credit.
Q. So, it's a catch-22 situation?
A. No it is not. You can define it well. The way RBI has done it by putting a cap on interest rates. This solves all the problems. There are ways as long you are running it properly and a regulatory authority is present to monitor your activities. Politicians come in when the money starts coming in. They come in when the state's money comes in, and the organisations start depending on funds from state sources. Then micro finance will have to play to their tune. However, if micro finance institutions can generate their own money, politicians will not be able to come in. Basically, micro credit should be kept outside political influences to run it as a sound financial institution. The best scenario is when a micro credit bank is owned by the poor, like the Grameen Bank. That way all the ownership and exploitation issues disappear.
Q. Do you believe that Grameen Bank remains the best model in micro credit, or do you see equally robust models elsewhere now?
A. I hope there are equally robust models elsewhere. It should not be the only one in the world. But, so far, no one has created a bank for the poor and owned by the poor. Grameen Bank is self reliant and it has its own pension fund, insurance programmes, technology programmes, education loans, etc. I haven't seen such comprehensive package anywhere yet. Others have some features, but not all of it.
Q. Grameen Bank was your baby, but you had to step down as Chairman because of political issues. What is your involvement with it now?
A. Technically I do not hold any office at Grameen Bank, but it is the same team that I have worked with all these years right from its inception. The same team is still running it, so we are not far away. We are family members. However, I do not sign any document now. The Bangladesh government has tried to take it over as a government-run bank, they changed the law as the law did not allow them to control the bank. I have been out of Grameen Bank for four years now, but still the government has not been able to put another managing director. There are complications in the law and you cannot impose a government-appointed managing director just like that. So, they changed the laws to make it happen. But even after all those changes, the government could not penetrate the bank. It has retained itself as the original bank as it was. But the government does have the legal power to take it over anytime, but it has not done so yet. So far so good, but it can change anytime.
Q. So you feel there is a need for a robust institution that does not allow outside influence, and India is far from having such a robust micro finance institution?
A. Yes. The legislation should allow for such a structure here.
Q. What do you think of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Jan Dhan Yojna and the 2015-16 Union Budget seeking financial inclusion by announcing insurance and pension schemes for the poor?
A. If you list them, I will keep checking them as all good. There is no problem with them. But the real test is not in announcements. The real test will be to get things done, and, 10 years later, if somebody says that he had done a great thing. Today, so far, it is about good intension, and I am not minimising the importance. But the day has not come when one can say that it has changed everything for the better. We have to wait and see how it is being implemented and how many people are affected by it. It has been rolled out very fast, but speed and quality often compete with each other. If you do too much (at the same time), then quality goes down. If one has to retain quality, then one becomes slow. So, one needs to balance the two. I wish him all the luck and he has good intensions and they are all very positive announcements, but only time will tell.
Q. Given that you are the standard bearer for the industry, how come you have not expanded beyond Bangladesh with the Grameen Bank model?
A. Despite several invitations, we decided not to go to other countries and do it ourselves. It is a simple thing. The local people should do it. There is enormous creative power in every region and varieties of programmes can be introduced. Given the pressure, we have taken up small steps to merely showcase how it can be done in China, Brazil, Columbia, Mexico and in the US. But these are all local organisations. We just help them with our people to get them started and to show how it is done. In the US there are 19 branches, of which, eight branches are in New York, two in LA, two in San Francisco, and one each in Houston, Nebraska, North Carolina, Boston and Indianapolis, among others. They are called Grameen America and they are doing excellent work and all borrowers are women.
Q. What is your involvement in India?
A. We have many friends here. Virtually every major person running micro credit here started out either as a visitor to our organisation or as a student, or have worked with us at some point in time. Vikram Akula was a student doing his MBA in Chicago, when he came to Grameen Bank during vacation and was really excited about it. He came here and created his for-profit company and that's when things started falling apart. He told shareholders that they can make money by helping the poor by lending. That was a wrong message. He should not have done that.
The point is, we have many friends here and NABARD has been working with us for many years, way before they even introduced the self-help programmes. They have been very curious and very supportive. Former prime minister Manmohan Singh, when he was the finance minister, also visited our office and we had a long discussion on how this can be done in India. So, there is curiosity and interest both from the government and from private players. But some came out the right way, the others went the wrong way.
Q. So you are not involved in any way at all?
A. We are not active in micro credit in India. But we are active here in the social business. India is one of the seven countries where the social business is taking roots. The other countries are Brazil, Columbia, Haiti, Albania, Tunisia and Uganda. The social business is growing spontaneously in Germany and Japan as well.
Look at the CSR (corporate social responsibility) legislation in India, where 2 per cent of the money has to be given. I was very excited to see it. This could transform the Indian situation, provided social businesses can be taken as CSR financing. But I just leant that the draft law included social business as an eligible subject for investment, but in the final law it disappeared. So, social business is not eligible to receive finance from CSR money. But it is possible for the government to add it at a later stage and they do not have to go back to the Parliament for that.
Q. What do you exactly mean when you talk about social business?
A. I am talking about businesses that are created to solve people's problems. Poverty is a problem. Hence, there is a business model to solve it, on the condition that no one will take profit for themselves. It is a profit-making business, but profit stays with the business. The investor can only take back the investment money and nothing more. Our social business, at the level of the company, does not give dividend to its investors. It gives the principal back. It deals with health problems, old-age, sanitation, housing, environment, technology, almost anything.
Q. What is your experience with the social space?
A. Grameen Bank is a social business. Other than that we have 60 companies in Bangladesh. We came here, in India, three years ago as a small pilot project with a small fund called Yunnus Social Business Fund in Mumbai. We have invested in seven businesses here. We give very low-cost debt at about 3-4 per cent interest per annum. That keeps me busy and keeps me excited. Yunnus Social Business is headquartered in Frankfurt and through that office we have businesses in seven countries, including India. We have local people, local money to run, identify and manage the work. Some are individuals, others are foundations.
Q. People are now talking about the exits in the impact investment space. This, people say, is good as it encourages money to flow into it. What is your view?
A. There is a whole range of it and some of it is good. But we chose an area where we say there is zero-profit for us. Your only entitlement is to get exactly the amount you invested in the business. Hence, we delink ourselves completely from making any money at all for ourselves. We place ourselves where there is zero-personal profit, but the company makes profit. Am not saying others are bad and we are good, but that is a position we take. We take that position because when the profit motive is there, then it automatically blinds you to many of the opportunities that require funding. Once you delink yourself from the motive, you suddenly see many options that you would not have seen otherwise.
Q. Why should profit be a bad word, if it can get money to flow into a space where it is needed?
A. Please underline my words. I am not against anybody. And neither are they bad. My view is that profit is the legacy of conventional businesses and if you leave that legacy, you may discover something completely different. For instance, this is a no-smoking room and if someone says can I take a puff, what is the harm. You have to decide if you want to allow the person to smoke or not. If you allow one, then the concept of 'no-smoking' is gone and the environment is disturbed. Someone else will say, what is the difference between one puff and two? Where will you draw the line, and how?
Q. Micro finance dominates the space of what you can differently call social, bottom-of-pyramid, or impact. They have done well and many investors have been successfully. In fact, business groups and banks are getting into the space. Are you worried?
A. It is difficult for me to make a statement, as I do not know what micro finance means to them. We have defined it as a small loan given to the poor, particularly poor women, for generating income without any collateral. The objective is to get them out of poverty. However, there are some who take collateral, but call it micro finance. They are giving money to buy consumer goods, and they call it micro finance. So, what is micro finance, I do not know what is the reference.
Q. So, you are saying that the micro finance space in India is getting muddied?
A. Not just in India. Everywhere in the world. It is getting confused. Within micro finance, there is the right micro credit and wrong micro credit. We have to draw a line. Whatever that does not fit in my definition, I call it wrong micro-credit.
Q. But are you worried about the direction it is taking in India?
A. I am hopeful. There are very committed people here. Very few people took it in the wrong direction. Others are very committed.
Date: 17 April 2013
Venue: Rotunda, Capitol Hill
Time: 11:51 hrs-12:07hrs
What an amazing experience for any human being. All the beautiful words are spoken about me and my work by the leaders of this great country. I just can't hold my tears. All my life I was trying to tell people what I felt to be important. Trying to draw attention to my thoughts and actions. Today I come to this hall; I get all the attention I can think of. I hear the endorsement in the loudest voice, in the most powerful voice possible.
That itself is the greatest award that I could ever receive, anywhere, anytime. Thank you very much for saying these amazing words and endorsing my simple ideas. I came to this Capitol Hill many years back, in 1971. I had no idea what this whole complex is all about. I was totally puzzled. I came as a desperate young man because people were being killed in my country and we declared our country as an independent country, Bangladesh. And the US government was not supporting our cause. I was 31-year-old teaching in the Middle Tennessee State University. I left my job, came down to Washington, to meet every single senator and congressman. In the process, I became an expert in the geography of this Capitol Hill. It has a very complex topography. Soon I became almost an expert on it. I felt that I could be a very good congressional assistant of a congressman. I learned a lot about the system that worked here. I was amazed that when the US government was opposing Bangladesh, US Congressmen and Senators were supporting us. That was a completely different thing than what I thought would be possible. This encouraged me. My job was to bring people from the constituency of each congressman to come here, guide them to the senator's office, congressman's office and give them the briefing note what they should be telling to their congressman to support us. Tremendous amount of support we built up in this country among the people where the government was opposed to us. I will never forget that. I came back again in 1984 and '85 from Bangladesh for a different cause. This time, I was invited to tell my story about Grameen Bank. Nobody knew about it at that time. A group called RESULTS, nobody heard of them at that time, organized by some crazy music teacher from Florida, Sam, pushing this idea of microcredit created in Bangladesh by Grameen Bank.I was brought into many congressional committee hearings, to present what I have experienced. Gradually RESULTS built up a tremendous momentum for their movement. Today when we talk 150 million people are taking microloans because of what you have done in this congress. This could happen because of the support you have provided behind it, and the most passionate volunteers of RESULTS, mobilizing forces to bring this information to every congressman, every senator. Thank you, volunteers here, as well as everywhere else. What is it that I was trying to do? Not a big thing. All I had promised to myself in the context of the terrible economic situation when I went back to Bangladesh, leaving my job at the university in Tennessee, to see what I can do. The problem was so acute my economics knowledge didn’t have a clue of a solution. I thought let's forget the textbook economics. Let me just make myself useful to one person a day. That's all I wanted to do. And that was my beginning. And I did a lot of little things. The first little thing I did was to try to protect people from village loan shark. That was such a big problem. Suddenly I thought -- why don't I lend the money myself. Why am I complaining about the loan sharks? If you want to get rid of them, just loan it yourself. So I started lending from my own pocket. And that was the beginning of the whole idea of microcredit. Today we are still doing that impacting on millions of people's lives. Today I'm so happy that it can penetrate easily in every person's mind, as well as policy makers mind. I'm very happy today.
I come back after 37 years after I created Grameen Bank, to receive this wonderful honor that you have given me today, endorsing what I have done. I'm receiving it not for me, for all these women who work so hard to make the world convinced that they can take care of themselves with the support of financial institutions. Not charity, but the institutional support to help them do the things they are capable of doing. I'm receiving this Award on behalf of those millions of women. I am also receiving this Award on behalf of all the people of Bangladesh. It’s not only an honor for me personally, its honor for the whole nation of Bangladesh and the very hard working people of Bangladesh. They are determined to make a difference in their lives. All we need to do to provide them the right kind of institutional support. I'm very happy to come back today in the Capitol with my family members. I'm so happy that Monica could sing on this wonderful occasion which is attended by all my friends from all over the world. I see president Fox sitting here, former first lady of South Africa Zanelli Mbeki, and my friends from France, Japan and other countries. A global gathering of friends who believe in the same cause that I believe in. I think we can make a big difference because of all the power that you give us today. As I was doing my work in the villages, I saw a lot of problems in the lives of the people, health problems, problems of housing, problems of nutrition. Every time I saw a problem I wanted to solve it in my way, one person at a time. I responded by creating a business to solve a problem. I created company after company. Some of them became very large companies. Like, company to install solar home system in the village houses. Nobody believed solar home system could work in Bangladesh, particularly in the rural area. I created a company to try it out. Since we don't have electricity, I found a good chance to bring solar energy in the villages. I created a tiny little company to sell solar home system. People didn’t believe in it. But we didn't give up. We started selling five solar systems per month. 10 solar systems per month. 100 solar systems per month. Sixteen years later we now sell 1,000 a day. And we just crossed 1 million home systems in Bangladesh last November. It's a business, but it is a business not for making personal profit.
People are poor, not because something is wrong with them. Poverty is not created by poor people. Poverty is created by the system we have built. Here is a place where this system is built. We have to look back where we went wrong. If we fix our system, nobody in the world will be a poor person. Each human being is packed with unlimited creative capacity. And I give the example of the bonzai tree. I say take the seed of the tallest tree in the forest. Put the seed in the flower pot. It will grow into a cute little tree. We call it bonzai. Poor people are bonzai people. There is nothing wrong in their seed. They could be as tall as anybody in the world; simply society did not allow them the space. Give them the space so that they can grow. We created all the businesses in the world to make money. As a result we created money centric world. We became money chasers. I keep pointing out that human beings are not robots. We are multi-dimensional. We make money through business, fine, but at the same time we can use business to solve problems. I gave examples of what I do. We can change the world like we can change the banking system. We admire the power of micro-credit, but even 37 years after micro-credit was born banking system has not changed. Why not? That puzzles me. I hope it puzzles you too. Why doesn't it change? Why can't it open its doors to all people? What's wrong? Why should micro-credit be a footnote? We can change the world to make sure that nobody remains to be a poor person. I'm very happy that congressmen and senators and leaders of both parties have agreed to engrave these words in the medal that we can put poverty in the museum. Let’s believe in it, let's make it happen. I hope someday soon we will visit museums to see poverty since we wouldn’t see poverty in the human society. Poverty doesn’t belong to civilized human society. And similarly, we should create a world where nobody will be an unemployed person. There is nothing wrong with human beings. Why should anybody be unemployed? Why is a person unemployed? Because we create a system which makes it happens. The system is making people suffer, for no fault in them. If we know that the fault is in the system, it’s our responsibility to fix it. Then everybody can be productive, creative human beings as they are supposed to be. Let's create a world where nobody would die unnecessarily. Nobody will suffer from unnecessary diseases. Today’s science and technology bring us all the facilities in the world to deliver healthcare at home. We don't have to go to the old fashioned ways of big extra-expensive machines, hospitals and clinics and everything else. It can be done with a mobile phone or as simple as that.
With the great, great honor that you give me today on this thrilling occasion, you re-enforce my firm belief that we can create a world much better than what we have done so far. Let's believe in our capacity and make it happen. Thank you very much.
Yunus, a Bangladeshi and founder of the Grameen Bank, which makes loans to people too poor to offer collateral in return, is serving as one the judges for the Hult Prize, in which six teams of college and university students — the survivors of a rigorous worldwide winnowing — will present their ideas for sustainable businesses designed to help the poor.
This year's theme is "Solving Non-Communicable Disease in the Urban Slum," and the teams will present ideas that include distributing gum that prevents tooth decay (local students, at first in Bangalore, will sell the gum at a low cost), training slum-dwellers to manufacture and sell much-needed eyeglasses, and selling a low-tech, inexpensive medical pump that will aid in the treatment of open wounds.
The judges — CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta is another — will also serve as mentors, guiding teams as they attempt to take their ideas to market. First prize is $1 million in seed money for the businesses, but given the deep-pocketed crowd the Clinton gathering attracts, it's likely that teams besides the winner will find funders as well.
Yunus found a few minutes today between meetings to answer questions from Goats and Soda.
This is a very exciting project you're involved in — the Hult Prize. Can you explain why entrepreneurship is an important model for interventions like these rather than something like direct public spending?
My position has always been that the world has been giving young people a very wrong kind of model, which is a job-oriented model. People have their education, and the first thing they do is they get out and they look for a job. I think that is a very limited ambition for human beings — to find a slot to fit into. A human being is a creative thing. In our DNA we are go-getters and problem-solvers. But instead we just put people into a small slot in a big machine.
I think the world should be an entrepreneurship-oriented world. So I endorse this entrepreneurship position that is taken by the Hult Prize.
Do you find that the Hult finalists — these are obviously smart people, often from top business schools, with excellent ideas ...
My position is that all people are smart people. There are no special smart people from the top business schools.
But are there things that you find you have to teach them about the developing world — things that they aren't grasping?
That's my job. That is what I do, I communicate with them. Whether they pick it up, or some of them don't pick it up, that's okay.
How do you see these entrepreneurial projects as interacting with governmental programs? Some people worry that overemphasizing private initiatives threatens to overshadow potentially more consequential governmental efforts
What is a governmental project? I don't get it.
Direct state-based aid, for example.
Government doesn't encourage entrepreneurship. Government is job-oriented. They always talk about how many jobs they have created. They don't say how many entrepreneurs they have created. They should. They should try to create entrepreneurs, rather than job-create.
Microcredit, in which banks lend extremely poor people small amounts of money, relying in part on peer pressure to encourage repayment, is both tremendously popular and, in some quarters, controversial. What is the statistic that you like to cite to show how effective it's been? What's the single thing you point to?
I think the thing about microcredit is that the banking system doesn't work for people. It works for people who have lots of wealth. It's a wealth-oriented banking system, not a people-oriented banking system. That's why it depends on collateral and so on. So what microcredit did was it removed the collateral issue; it is trust-based banking. This is what the banking system should have been. It should have been an inclusive banking system rather than an exclusive banking system.
In Grameen Bank, which I created in Bangladesh, we have now eight and a half million borrowers. Most of them are women: 97 percent of them are women. The bank is owned by the borrowers. It's not owned by some rich guy somewhere else. And the borrowers are on the board, making the decisions. Today, the Grameen Bank lends out one and a half billion dollars each year and each year that figure is increasing. We're in a situation where the savings of the borrowers, kept in deposits in the bank, exceeded the total loan they make. We have created a new kind of relationship between the bank and the borrower.
There have been criticisms, for example, that people who have been struck by natural disaster find themselves unable to pay off their loans—they entered a debt spiral. Have you had to make course corrections to deal with that?
No, no, no, no. This is part of the bank's job. It's [the borrowers'] bank, and they are hard hit when the flood comes. And it's flood season right now in Bangladesh.
So the bank has to change gears, in effect, when a disaster strikes?
They have a standard procedure, where when the flood comes in, then the bank becomes a humanitarian organization: to save them, to feed them, to take care of them, to give them medicine. And then when the flood is over, to get them back to their homes, rebuild their homes, rebuild the business.
You cannot run a bank for poor people in Bangladesh without considering the disaster situation, which is caused by the floods, the cyclones, and the tidal waves, which happen so frequently with the global warming. It is becoming more frequent; so it is a part of life.
There was a power struggle over the Grameen Bank with the Bangladeshi Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina. I take it you were more or less forced out in 2011. But you sound quite proud of its continuing work.
Sure, it's a good bank, it works well. I created it and it continues to work
So that government takeover didn't hurt the bank
They are trying to take it over but they still have not been successful.
I've read that microcredit is taking off in the United States.
There are seven branches of Grameen America in New York City. We have nearly 25,000 borrowers in New York City — 100 percent of them are women. In New York City the average loan is 1,500 dollars; and the repayment date is nearly 100 percent it's 99.4. They follow the same procedures and rules in as Bangladesh.
We also have two branches in Los Angeles; two branches in San Francisco and ones in Houston; in Boston; in Charlotte, North Carolina; Omaha and Indianapolis. Many more cities are in the pipeline.
Is that a sign of how flexible microcredit is, or a sign that the United States has become a more unequal place that does not serve its poor particularly well?
It is a sign of how robust microcredit is, how well-designed microcredit is. It can work in any situation anywhere in the world. It's for people that [traditional] banks will not come anywhere near. People are left to loan sharks. They are left to payday lenders with the interest of 1,000 percent and 2,000 percent because a bank will not come and do business them.
The whole banking system is unequal. It's not just the United States. It's a global phenomenon.
The microcredit system is partly based on peer pressure; do we have the same norms here in the U.S, the same social cohesion, to make microcredit work?
We have been working right here in New York City for the last six years and there are seven branches. So it works. Before Grameen, people said, "It can't be done."
Muhammad Yunus just had a milestone birthday. On June 28, he turned 75. It's a big moment for a man who's had many big moments in his life — most notably the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for founding Grameen Bank, which loans small sums, aka "microcredit," to the poor, mainly women, so they can start their own businesses.
Yunus stopped by NPR last week — he was in Washington, D.C., for a conference — wearing the long, open-necked "kurta" shirt of his native Bangladesh. "[A tie] looks funny on me," he joked.
He spoke with us about how to spend senior years (spoiler alert: he's anti-retirement) and why he thinks small loans can make a huge difference in the lives of the poor.
You're at an age when many people are retired. But you're still a busy man. Even though you no longer run the Grameen Bank, you're chairman of the Yunus Centre, which promotes businesses that aim to solve the world's problems, and you're speaking on panels.
The word 'retirement' is a very harmful word because it tells you that you have no more use left in you. You retire a ship, you have no use for it, you just put it in mothballs.
A human being is not something you can mothball.
Are you enjoying your older years?
For the first [stage of your life, you are] busy growing up, getting married, raising children, working, always trying to fill responsibilities, always under pressure. Now in the second stage, for the first time, I am free. I do whatever I want to do. I want to make my dreams and wishes true. And I do whatever I enjoy.
What about discounts for senior citizens. Are you pro or con?
I am as good as anyone else. Why should I have a discount? You are treating me differently.
You won the Nobel Prize for the many small loans that your bank gives to poor people. That was a revolutionary idea.
The banking system is designed for rich people. So you don't have any room for the poor people to get in there. The welfare system throws them a few crumbs, but that's it.
Credit is a human right. You have the right to food, shelter, to work. You can create your own work with the money you get.
I can only imagine how intimidating it would be for a poor person to walk into a big bank and ask for a loan.
Going into a bank should be just like when you shop. You don't need courage to buy groceries.
And someone can borrow money from the bank you founded, Grameen Bank, without any collateral?
In microcredit, we are not asking for any collateral. Anybody's entitled. We're not asking what you've got. We're asking what you need.
What would a woman in Bangladesh ask for?
She'll say, I'll think, about $30. She cannot even imagine $100.
And most loans are ... ?
Something like $100 or $150.
The idea is the money will go to start a business.
You have to have a business idea. For example, in Bangladesh, a lot of women propose agriculture-related business: growing something, selling something, producing something.
The bank also has a U.S. offshoot — Grameen America. Are you surprised by the kinds of businesses American women are starting up?
In Bangladesh, our women don't do hairdressing for money; they do the hair for each other. But in the United States, this is a business, so they set up in a shop to do the hairdressing. That surprised me. Dog walking is not a business in Bangladesh. Here [in the U.S.] it's a business. In Bangladesh, you laugh [at the thought] that you can make money by dog walking.
Your bank has accomplished a lot, with 8.4 million loan customers. Yet you and the bank have come in for criticism: The bank doesn't follow government rules and regulations; the bank receives foreign funding.
Do I have this envelope with me so I don't have to answer all these questions? [Yunus hands me a 31-page pamphlet titled "Questions by critics on Grameen Bank and the facts." The answers in the pamphlet can be found on his website.]
Transcript from an interview with Muhammad Yunus, 2006 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, on 12 December 2006.
Interviewer: Marika Griehsel, freelance journalist.
First of all, welcome to this interview.
Muhammed Yunus: Thank you.
I'm very honoured to meet you. What did you think when the phone call came?
Muhammed Yunus: Oh, it was… well, mind boggling. You don't imagine it will happen. Although there are a lot of talks every year that I may be getting the Nobel Prize, but talking about it, speculating about it is something, you always have lots of question marks about it, but suddenly it happened. It's tremendously different than what speculation gives you, so immediately the whole country was electrified. A flood gate of enthusiasm suddenly opened up, excitement opened up, people were rushing to my house, hundreds and thousands of people within an hour appearing at my doorstep and all the newspaper people, the televisions and the cameras ... You can't believe that people can rush to such a situation with such a speed.
What do you think changed? Why this year and not the year before?
Muhammed Yunus: Because you're lazy. You didn't take the decision before. No. I don't know how the comparison with the candidates, how you do that and I don't blame them. There are so many capable people in the world that have to be considered.
Do you think the prize has changed in its character, if you look way back? I mean, this year, a bank and you and your work, you know? What has it to do with peace, some people ask.
"... poverty is a threat, no matter which way you look at it, a threat to the peace.
Muhammed Yunus: Well, this is not the first peace prize I got. I got the Sydney Peace Prize way back in the '90s, so somebody could have asked why Sydney gives this peace prize to a banker. I had the Indira Gandhi Peace Prize from India. Again, that was the same question, it's a peace prize. Recently I had the Seoul Peace Prize. Again, that's a peace prize because poverty is a threat, no matter which way you look at it, a threat to the peace. You can't leave people poor and live happily thereafter. You can't. The poor people will not let you sleep peacefully because they are in a desperate situation. When you are desperate, you disturb peace. When a country is desperately poor and their next door neighbour is very rich, I don't think these desperately poor people in this country will just sit there and respect your prosperity and don't do anything, they will try to get in and use your capacity to help them or be involved in whatever prosperity you have, and you may not like that, their intrusion into your peaceful life.
So this is what must be seen as a threat to the peace, like we talk about terrorism. The breeding ground for terrorism would be abject poverty. If you are poor, you can hire anybody for any terrorist activity for a little money because he has nothing to lose, he'll easily convince that yes, why don't I do that? And the logic of terrorism makes sense to him which will not make sense to a well-off family, for example, so as long as you keep the breeding ground, nobody is safe, so it's good to address the breeding ground so that there is no breeding ground available and you reduce the chances of disturbing the peace.
The microcredits have often been used for women. What do you do ... the connection between peace and giving individual opportunities to women, particularly? How do you see that?
Muhammed Yunus: Poverty, again. If we want to help poor people out, one way to do that is to help them explore and use their own capability. The human being is full of capacity, full of capability, it's a wonderful creation, but many people never get a chance to explore that, never know that she or he has that, because society never allowed to unwrap that gift, so the gift remains packed and you never know that he ever had it. Many people die without ever knowing that he or she had so much potential, so much gift into her, so microcredit allows persons to unleash a little bit of it, explore a little bit and if you explore a little bit of it and you are successful, you are charmed by your own capacity. You want to explore more, so gradually, as you explore, you move out of poverty step by step, so this is what happens with microcredit. Microcredit helps people get out of poverty.
When we saw we are giving microcredit both to men and women, because I wanted to make sure that 50%, half of the borrowers in my work are women and this is a kind of protesting as the conventional banks where they reject women. In many, many countries the percentage of women borrower is far down compared to the percentage of men borrowers. In Bangladesh, the women percentage in the banks among the borrowers, not even 1% of the borrowers they are providing, so we thought we should address that issue and in our programme, 50% of the borrowers should be women, so that's what we did. And then we saw, after we achieved that, money going to the family through women brought so much more benefit to the family compared to the money going to the family through men. Women took good care of their children as their income increased, so we focused on women. As a result, out of the 7 million borrowers that we have, 97% of them are women and it works beautifully. All objective is still help the family to get out of poverty, so if you bring in women into the picture, if you empower women, it happens faster than it happens the other way.
Can the Nobel Prize help to put this issue even higher up on the political agenda internationally, as we see so many billions of dollars spent on creating war and war machinery that is currently happening on our planet?
Muhammed Yunus: It's very much possible and it's happening because the Nobel Peace Prize is something which takes you way above the normal level of activity. You become very visible and your voice gets heard everywhere. Even if you whisper, everybody hears you because your voice is magnified many, many times. It's a prize unlike other prizes where everybody's interested, it's not just a section of the society or one part of the society. Everybody puts the Nobel Prize, Nobel Peace Prize, in a very special category that other prize cannot match, so with the prize coming to me, I get that status automatically, whether I deserve it, I don't deserve it, but that's what I am, so immediately people want to understand what is this microcredit? Why aren't we doing more of it?
"Resources are plenty but we are using it in many wrong directions ...
If it is the way it is, through people asking question, and about the resources – where do we get the resources? Resources are plenty but we are using it in many wrong directions. I said if we were trying to address the terrorism, terrorism cannot be overcome by military means. You can't just take military action to destroy terrorism. It can be suppressed for a while but if you want to eliminate terrorism, you have to address the poverty issue, so instead of putting money in the war efforts, which we do, billions of dollar in war effort buying guns and buying weapons, why don't we use this money to help people get out of poverty? Probably it is a better strategy, we will achieve what we want to achieve as a peaceful world and peaceful nations.
If I, as an individual, or a group of people in this country or any other countries, would like to contribute in any way and has some surplus to invest, what can we do to help?
Muhammed Yunus: Two things. One is to support microcredit programmes wherever they exist or wherever they want. If it is in Africa that you want to support, if you have a favourite country that you want to support, that's possible, trying to find, and we can provide information about that. The other one is more powerful, would be a more general kind of thing, support social businesses. Invest in social businesses. Social businesses are businesses where you want to invest money to achieve a social objective, like overcome poverty, like bringing financial facilities to the poor people, it's a society objective. Empowering women is a social objective so we'll invest this money into empowering women in a business way so that that money comes back again. It's not a charity, it's not given and never seen back again. Social business in every shape and size is a business but I'm not doing it to make money for myself. I'm doing it to reach out to people, solve the social problems, solve an economic problem, like I want to bring safe drinking water to the community where it doesn't exist and I run it as a business and people get their drinking water, I run it as a business so every year I don't have to go around passing round a hat to collect money, because as a business it generates its own money and it continues, so your contribution and your collaboration, you can pool this money and support a social business. It could be health care programme, it could be environment programme or whatever.
Then my last question will be you talk about a social business. Why can't we see the bigger corporations in the world take that responsibility, considering the amount of surplus that they have?
Muhammed Yunus: They're welcome. To begin with, without making them feel this is a threat to them, many of these big corporations have foundations windows. They have their own foundations. Their foundation money can be invested in social businesses very easily because, after all, foundation is created to give away money and good causes and instead of giving away, it's much better to give it in the social business so that it stays on and become bigger and bigger each year because you are putting in more money and this money is coming back so your fund becomes bigger and bigger and, if you are impressed by your result that you achieve, you can put more money into social business yourself, create a company in your name, company's name as a subsidiary, but as a social business, meaning that up front you are declaring that you are not interested, you are not creating this company to make money out of it, you are creating this company to address a particular problem that you look at and you're using your business talent to address that social problem. If all the businesses in the world could use their business talent to address social problem, address the economic problem of the poor, address the economic problem of the bottom 50% of the population of the world, this world would be free from poverty much faster than we can ever imagine.
Does it give you hope for the future?
Muhammed Yunus: It does because I see it's possible and human being are, after all, the good being. It's not something they mean harm to each other but they get stuck in the social institutions and structures that we have built and they push in the wrong direction.
"Human being is much bigger than just making money. ...
Like in our conceptual film work, we created something called business which is the centre of the capitalist world, business and the free market, but then we said you ran business, only mission you have is to make some money, so you profit. That's where we go wrong. Why people have to always maximise profit? Human being is much bigger than just making money. It's not a money making machine, so I'm saying why don't they give other options? That I can invest money, I can run business to do good and I enjoy it and I get excited about reaching out to people, touching people's life, leaving behind a signature on this one, that I did this, and people admired that I did this and I like that, so why you stopping me from that? They said if you want to do that, go to the charity window, this is not business, I said no, I want to run it as a business and I can do that and I can solve it and I can become more powerful business by reaching out to those and I want to solve those water problem, I want to solve the disease problem, I want to solve the medicine problem, I want to solve the housing problem of the poor, otherwise nobody will come to them. I want to come to them and help them as a business entity.
So this can be done. This is what I feel very confidence about because ultimately this will happen and through my credit, what we have done, I see poor people are getting out of poverty every day, their children are getting educated, very capable young people just like any other young people, so with all those things possible, we can see that we can create a poverty free world and I see a world someday, where only place we'll see poverty will be in the museums, poverty museums. That's where we'll go, our children will go, our grandchildren will go and see poverty, only there. Nowhere in the world they will see real poverty in action. It will be gone, it will be eliminated.
I love that vision. Thank you so much for this time.
Muhammed Yunus: Thank you.
Transcript Link- https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/2006/yunus-interview-transcript.html
Commencement address by Muhammad Yunus
MIT's 142nd Commencement
June 6, 2008
It as a very special privilege for me to speak at the commencement ceremony of this prestigious institution.
What a wonderful feeling to be here today. To be with all of you, some of the brightest minds in the world, right at a moment when you decide the path you will embark on in life. You represent the future of the world. The choices that you will make for yourself will decide the fate of mankind. This is how it has always been. Sometimes we are aware of it, most of the time we are not. I hope you'll remain aware of it and make an effort to be remembered not simply as a creative generation but as a socially-conscious creative generation. Try it.
I had no idea whether my life would someday be relevant to anyone else's. But in the mid-seventies, out of frustration with the terrible economic situation in Bangladesh I decided to see if I could make myself useful to one poor person a day in the village next door to the university campus where I was teaching. I found myself in an unfamiliar situation. Out of necessity I had to find a way out. Since I did not have a road-map, I had to fall back on my basic instinct to do that. At any moment I could have withdrawn myself from my unknown path, but I did not. I stubbornly went on to find my own way. Luckily, at the end, I found it. That was microcredit and Grameen Bank.
Now, in hindsight, I can joke about it. When people ask me, "How did you figure out all the rules and procedures that is now known as Grameen system ?" My answer is : "That was very simple and easy. Whenever I needed a rule or a procedure in our work, I just looked at the conventional banks to see what they do in a similar situation. Once I learned what they did, I just did the opposite. That's how I got our rules. Conventional banks go to the rich, we go to the poor; their rule is -- "the more you have, the more you get." So our rule became -- "the less you have higher attention you get. If you have nothing, you get the highest priority." They ask for collateral, we abandoned it, as if we had never heard of it. They need lawyers in their business, we don't. No lawyer is involved in any of our loan transactions. They are owned by the rich, ours is owned by the poorest, the poorest women to boot. I can go on adding more to this list to show how Grameen does things quite the opposite way.
Was it really a systematic policy Ã¦ to do it the opposite way ? No, it wasn't. But that's how it turned out ultimately, because our objective was different. I had not even noticed it until a senior banker admonished me by saying : Dr. Yunus, you are trying to put the banking system upside down." I quickly agreed with him. I said : "Yes, because the banking system is standing on its head."
I could not miss seeing the ruthlessness of moneylenders in the village. First I lent the money to replace the loan-sharks. Then I went to the local bank to request them to lend money to the poor. They refused.
After months of deadlock I persuaded them by offering myself as a guarantor. This is how microcredit was born in 1976. Today Grameen Bank lends money to 7.5 million borrowers, 97 per cent women. They own the bank. The bank has lent out over $ 7.0 billion in Bangladesh over the years. Globally 130 million poor families receive microcredit. Even then banks have not changed much. They do not mind writing off a trillion dollars in a sub-prime crisis, but they still stay away from lending US $ 100 to a poor woman despite the fact such loans have near 100 per cent repayment record globally.
While focusing on microcredit we saw the need for other types of interventions to help the rural population, in general, and the poor, in particular. We tried our interventions in the health sector, information technology, renewable energy and on several other fronts.
Since we worked with poor women, health issue quickly drew our attention. We introduced health insurance. We succeeded in developing an effective healthcare program based on health insurance, but have not been able to expand this program because of non-availability of doctors. Doctors are reluctant to stay in the villages. (It has become such a big bottleneck that we have now decided to set up a medical college to produce doctors.) Under the program a villager pays about US $ 2.00 a year as health insurance premium, to get health coverage for the entire family. Financially it is sustainable.
I became a strong believer in the power of information technology to change the lives of the poor people. This encouraged me to create a cell-phone company called Grameen Phone. We brought phones to the villages of Bangladesh and gave loans to the poor women to buy themselves cell-phones to sell their service and make money. It became an instant success.
Seventy percent of the population of Bangladesh do not have access to electricity. We wanted to address this issue by introducing solar home system in the villages. We created a separate company called Grameen Shakti, or Grameen Energy. It became a very successful company in popularising solar home system, bio-gas, and environment-friendly cooking stoves. It has already reached 155,000 homes with solar home systems, and aims to reach one million homes by 2012. As we started creating a series of companies around renewable energy, information technology, textile, agriculture, livestock, education, health, finance etc, I was wondering why conventional businesses do not see business the way we see it. They have different goals than ours. We design our businesses one way, they design theirs in another way.
Conventional businesses are based on the theoretical framework provided by the designers of capitalist economic system. In this framework 'business' has to be a profit-maximizing entity. The more aggressively a business pursues it, the better the system functions Ã¦ we are told. The bigger the profit, the more successful the business is; the more happy investors are. In my work it never occurred to me that I should maximize profit. All my struggle was to take each of my enterprises to a level where it could at least be self-sustaining. I defined the mission of my businesses in a different way than that of the traditional businesses.
As I was doing it, obviously I was violating the basic tenet of capitalist system Ã¦ profit maximization. Since I was engaged in finding my own solution to reach the mission of my business, I was not looking at any existing road maps. My only concern was to see if my path was taking me where I wanted to go. When it worked I felt very happy. I know maximization of profit makes people happy. I don't maximize profit, but my businesses are a great source of my happiness. If you had done what I have done you would be very happy too! I am convinced that profit maximization is not the only source of happiness in business. 'Business' has been interpreted too narrowly in the existing framework of capitalism. This interpretation is based on the assumption that a human being is a single dimensional being. His business-related happiness is related to the size of the profit he makes. He is presented as a robot-like money-making machine.
But we all know that real-life human beings are multi-dimensional beings Ã¦ not uni-dimensional like the theory assumes. For a real-life human being money-making is a means, not an end. But for the businessman in the existing theory money-making is both a means and also an end.
This narrow interpretation has done us great damage. All business people around the world have been imitating this one-dimensional theoretical businessman as precisely as they can to make sure they get the most from the capitalist system. If you are a businessman you have to wear profit-maximizing glasses all the time. As a result, only thing you see in the world are the profit enhancing opportunities. Important problems that we face in the world cannot be addressed because profit-maximizing eyes cannot see them.
We can easily reformulate the concept of a businessman to bring him closer to a real human being. In order to take into account the multi-dimensionality of real human being we may assume that there are two distinct sources of happiness in the business world Ã¦ 1) maximizing profit, and 2) achieving some pre-defined social objective. Since there are clear conflicts between the two objectives, the business world will have to be made up of two different kinds of businesses --1) profit-maximizing business, and 2) social business. Specific type of happiness will come from the specific type of business.
Then an investor will have two choices Ã¦ he can invest in one or in both. My guess is most people will invest in both in various proportions. This means people will use two sets of eye-glassesÃ¦ profit-maximizing glasses, and social business glasses. This will bring a big change in the world. Profit maximizing businessmen will be amazed to see how different the world looks once they take off the profit-maximizing glasses and wear the social business glasses. By looking at the world from two different perspectives business decision-makers will be able to decide better, act better, and these decisions and actions will lead to a dramatically better world.
While I was wondering whether the idea of social business would make any sense to the corporate world I had an opportunity to talk to the chairman of Danone Group Mr. Franck Riboud about this subject. It made perfect sense to him right away. Together we created Grameen Danone company as a social business in Bangladesh. This company produces yogurt fortified with micro-nutrients which are missing in the mal-nourished children of Bangladesh. Because it is a social business, Grameen and Danone, will never take any dividend out of the company beyond recouping the initial investment. Bottom line for the company is to see how many children overcome their nutrition deficiency each year.
Next initiative came from Credit Agricole of France. We created Grameen Credit Agricole Microfinance Foundation to provide financial support to microfinance organizations and social businesses.
We created a small water company to provide good quality drinking water in a cluster of villages of Bangladesh. This is a joint venture with Veolia, a leading water company in the world. Bangladesh has terrible drinking water problem. In a large part of Bangladesh tubewell water is highly arsenic contaminated, surface water is polluted. This social business water company will be a prototype for supplying safe drinking water in a sustainable and affordable way to people who are faced with water crisis. Once it is perfected, it can be replicated in other villages, within Bangladesh and outside.
We have already established an eye-care hospital specializing in cataract operation, with a capacity to undertake 10,000 operations per year. This is a joint venture social business with the Green Children Foundation created by two singers in their early twenties, Tom and Milla, from England and Norway.
We have signed a joint-venture agreement with Intel Corporation, to create a social business company called Grameen-Intel to bring information technology-based services to the poor in healthcare, marketing, education and remittances.
We also signed a social business joint venture agreement with Saudi German Hospital Group to set up a series of hospitals in Bangladesh.
Many more companies from around the world are showing interest in such social business joint ventures. A leading shoe company wants to create a social business to make sure that nobody goes without shoes. One leading pharmaceutical company wishes to set up a joint venture social business company to produce nutritional supplements appropriate for Bangladeshi pregnant mothers and young women, at the cheapest possible price.
We are also in discussion to launch a social business company to produce chemically treated mosquito-nets to protect people in Bangladesh and Africa from malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases.
Your generation can bring a breakthrough in changing the course of the world. You can be the socially-conscious creative generation that the world is waiting for. You can bring your creativity to design brilliant social businesses to overcome poverty, disease, environmental degradation, food crisis, depletion of non-renewable resources, etc. Each one of you is capable of changing the world. To make a start all that each one of you has to do is to design a business plan for a social business. Each prototype of a social business can be a cute little business. But if it works out, the whole world can be changed by replicating it in thousands of locations.
Prototype development is the key. In designing a prototype all we need is a socially-oriented creative mind. That could be each one of you. No matter what you do in your life, make it a point to design or be involved with at least one social business to address one problem that depresses you the most. If you have the design and the money, go ahead and put it into action. If you have the design but no money, contact your dean -- he will find the money. I never heard that MIT has problem in finding money when it has a hot idea in its hand. MIT can even create a social business development fund in anticipation of your requests.
I can tell you very emphatically that in terms of human capability there is no difference between a poor person and a very privileged person. All human beings are packed with unlimited potential. Poor people are no exception to this rule. But the world around them never gave them the opportunity to know that each of them is carrying a wonderful gift in them. The gift remains unknown and unwrapped. Our challenge is to help the poor unwrap their gift.
Poverty is not created by the poor. It is created by the system. Poverty is an artificial imposition on people. Once you fall outside the system, it works against you. It makes it very difficult to return to the system.
How do we change this? Where do we begin ?
Three basic interventions will make a big difference in the existing system : a) broadening the concept of business by including "social business" into the framework of market place, b) creating inclusive financial and healthcare services which can reach out to every person on the planet, c) designing appropriate information technology devices, and services for the bottom-most people and making them easily available to them.
Your generation has the opportunity to make a break with the past and create a beautiful new world. We see the ever-growing problems created by the individual-centered aggressively accumulative economy. If we let it proceed without serious modifications, we may soon reach the point of no return. Among other things, this type of economy has placed our planet under serious threat through climatic distortions. Single-minded pursuit of profit has made us forget that this planet is our home; that we are supposed to make it safe and beautiful, not make it more unliveable everyday by promoting a life-style which ignores all warnings of safety.
At this point let me give you the good news. No matter how daunting the problems look, don't get brow beaten by their size. Big problems are most often just an aggregation of tiny problems. Get to the smallest component of the problem. Then it becomes an innocent bite-size problem, and you can have all the fun dealing with it. You'll be thrilled to see in how many ways you can crack it. You can tame it or make it disappear by various social and economic actions, including social business. Pick out the action which looks most efficient in the given circumstances. Tackling big problems does not always have to be through giant actions, or global initiatives or big businesses. It can start as a tiny little action. If you shape it the right way, it can grow into a global action in no time. Even the biggest problem can be cracked by a small well-designed intervention. That's where you and your creativity come in. These interventions can be so small that each one of you can crack these problems right from your garage. If you have a friend or two to work with you, it is all the more better. It can be fun too.
You are born in the age of ideas. Ideas are something an MIT graduate, I am sure, will not run out of. The question I am raising now -- what use you want to make of them ? Make money by selling or using your ideas ? Or change the world with your ideas? Or do both ? It is upto you to decide.
There are two clear tasks in front of you -- 1) to end poverty in the world once for all, and 2) to set the world in the right path to undo all the damage we have done to the environment by our ignorance and selfishness. Time is right. Your initiatives can produce big results, even lead you to achieving these goals. Then yours will be the most successful generation in human history. You will take your grand-children to the poverty museums with tremendous pride that your generation had finally made it happen.
Congratulations, for being part of a generation which has exciting possibilities, and advance congratulations to you all for your future successes in creating a new world where everyone on this planet can stand tall as a human being.
Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Honorable Members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Grameen Bank and I are deeply honoured to receive this most prestigious of awards. We are thrilled and overwhelmed by this honour. Since the Nobel Peace Prize was announced, I have received endless messages from around the world, but what moves me most are the calls I get almost daily, from the borrowers of Grameen Bank in remote Bangladeshi villages, who just want to say how proud they are to have received this recognition.
Nine elected representatives of the 7 million borrowers-cum-owners of Grameen Bank have accompanied me all the way to Oslo to receive the prize. I express thanks on their behalf to the Norwegian Nobel Committee for choosing Grameen Bank for this year's Nobel Peace Prize. By giving their institution the most prestigious prize in the world, you give them unparalleled honour. Thanks to your prize, nine proud women from the villages of Bangladesh are at the ceremony today as Nobel laureates, giving an altogether new meaning to the Nobel Peace Prize.
All borrowers of Grameen Bank are celebrating this day as the greatest day of their lives. They are gathering around the nearest television set in their villages all over Bangladesh , along with other villagers, to watch the proceedings of this ceremony.
This years' prize gives highest honour and dignity to the hundreds of millions of women all around the world who struggle every day to make a living and bring hope for a better life for their children. This is a historic moment for them.
Poverty is a Threat to Peace
Ladies and Gentlemen:
By giving us this prize, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has given important support to the proposition that peace is inextricably linked to poverty. Poverty is a threat to peace.
World's income distribution gives a very telling story. Ninety four percent of the world income goes to 40 percent of the population while sixty percent of people live on only 6 per cent of world income. Half of the world population lives on two dollars a day. Over one billion people live on less than a dollar a day. This is no formula for peace.
The new millennium began with a great global dream. World leaders gathered at the United Nations in 2000 and adopted, among others, a historic goal to reduce poverty by half by 2015. Never in human history had such a bold goal been adopted by the entire world in one voice, one that specified time and size. But then came September 11 and the Iraq war, and suddenly the world became derailed from the pursuit of this dream, with the attention of world leaders shifting from the war on poverty to the war on terrorism. Till now over $ 530 billion has been spent on the war in Iraq by the USA alone.
I believe terrorism cannot be won over by military action. Terrorism must be condemned in the strongest language. We must stand solidly against it, and find all the means to end it. We must address the root causes of terrorism to end it for all time to come. I believe that putting resources into improving the lives of the poor people is a better strategy than spending it on guns.
Poverty is Denial of All Human Rights
Peace should be understood in a human way − in a broad social, political and economic way. Peace is threatened by unjust economic, social and political order, absence of democracy, environmental degradation and absence of human rights.
Poverty is the absence of all human rights. The frustrations, hostility and anger generated by abject poverty cannot sustain peace in any society. For building stable peace we must find ways to provide opportunities for people to live decent lives.
The creation of opportunities for the majority of people − the poor − is at the heart of the work that we have dedicated ourselves to during the past 30 years.
I became involved in the poverty issue not as a policymaker or a researcher. I became involved because poverty was all around me, and I could not turn away from it. In 1974, I found it difficult to teach elegant theories of economics in the university classroom, in the backdrop of a terrible famine in Bangladesh. Suddenly, I felt the emptiness of those theories in the face of crushing hunger and poverty. I wanted to do something immediate to help people around me, even if it was just one human being, to get through another day with a little more ease. That brought me face to face with poor people's struggle to find the tiniest amounts of money to support their efforts to eke out a living. I was shocked to discover a woman in the village, borrowing less than a dollar from the money-lender, on the condition that he would have the exclusive right to buy all she produces at the price he decides. This, to me, was a way of recruiting slave labor.
I decided to make a list of the victims of this money-lending "business" in the village next door to our campus.
When my list was done, it had the names of 42 victims who borrowed a total amount of US $27. I offered US $27 from my own pocket to get these victims out of the clutches of those money-lenders. The excitement that was created among the people by this small action got me further involved in it. If I could make so many people so happy with such a tiny amount of money, why not do more of it?
That is what I have been trying to do ever since. The first thing I did was to try to persuade the bank located in the campus to lend money to the poor. But that did not work. The bank said that the poor were not creditworthy. After all my efforts, over several months, failed I offered to become a guarantor for the loans to the poor. I was stunned by the result. The poor paid back their loans, on time, every time! But still I kept confronting difficulties in expanding the program through the existing banks. That was when I decided to create a separate bank for the poor, and in 1983, I finally succeeded in doing that. I named it Grameen Bank or Village bank.
Today, Grameen Bank gives loans to nearly 7.0 million poor people, 97 per cent of whom are women, in 73,000 villages in Bangladesh. Grameen Bank gives collateral-free income generating, housing, student and micro-enterprise loans to the poor families and offers a host of attractive savings, pension funds and insurance products for its members. Since it introduced them in 1984, housing loans have been used to construct 640,000 houses. The legal ownership of these houses belongs to the women themselves. We focused on women because we found giving loans to women always brought more benefits to the family.
In a cumulative way the bank has given out loans totaling about US $6.0 billion. The repayment rate is 99%. Grameen Bank routinely makes profit. Financially, it is self-reliant and has not taken donor money since 1995. Deposits and own resources of Grameen Bank today amount to 143 per cent of all outstanding loans. According to Grameen Bank's internal survey, 58 per cent of our borrowers have crossed the poverty line.
Grameen Bank was born as a tiny homegrown project run with the help of several of my students, all local girls and boys. Three of these students are still with me in Grameen Bank, after all these years, as its topmost executives. They are here today to receive this honour you give us.
This idea, which began in Jobra, a small village in Bangladesh, has spread around the world and there are now Grameen type programs in almost every country.
It is 30 years now since we began. We keep looking at the children of our borrowers to see what has been the impact of our work on their lives. The women who are our borrowers always gave topmost priority to the children. One of the Sixteen Decisions developed and followed by them was to send children to school. Grameen Bank encouraged them, and before long all the children were going to school. Many of these children made it to the top of their class. We wanted to celebrate that, so we introduced scholarships for talented students. Grameen Bank now gives 30,000 scholarships every year.
Many of the children went on to higher education to become doctors, engineers, college teachers and other professionals. We introduced student loans to make it easy for Grameen students to complete higher education. Now some of them have PhD's. There are 13,000 students on student loans. Over 7,000 students are now added to this number annually.
We are creating a completely new generation that will be well equipped to take their families way out of the reach of poverty. We want to make a break in the historical continuation of poverty.
Beggars Can Turn to Business
In Bangladesh 80 percent of the poor families have already been reached with microcredit. We are hoping that by 2010, 100 per cent of the poor families will be reached.
Three years ago we started an exclusive programme focusing on the beggars. None of Grameen Bank's rules apply to them. Loans are interest-free; they can pay whatever amount they wish, whenever they wish. We gave them the idea to carry small merchandise such as snacks, toys or household items, when they went from house to house for begging. The idea worked. There are now 85,000 beggars in the program. About 5,000 of them have already stopped begging completely. Typical loan to a beggar is $12.
We encourage and support every conceivable intervention to help the poor fight out of poverty. We always advocate microcredit in addition to all other interventions, arguing that microcredit makes those interventions work better.
Information Technology for the Poor
Information and communication technology (ICT) is quickly changing the world, creating distanceless, borderless world of instantaneous communications. Increasingly, it is becoming less and less costly. I saw an opportunity for the poor people to change their lives if this technology could be brought to them to meet their needs.
As a first step to bring ICT to the poor we created a mobile phone company, Grameen Phone. We gave loans from Grameen Bank to the poor women to buy mobile phones to sell phone services in the villages. We saw the synergy between microcredit and ICT.
The phone business was a success and became a coveted enterprise for Grameen borrowers. Telephone-ladies quickly learned and innovated the ropes of the telephone business, and it has become the quickest way to get out of poverty and to earn social respectability. Today there are nearly 300,000 telephone ladies providing telephone service in all the villages of Bangladesh . Grameen Phone has more than 10 million subscribers, and is the largest mobile phone company in the country. Although the number of telephone-ladies is only a small fraction of the total number of subscribers, they generate 19 per cent of the revenue of the company. Out of the nine board members who are attending this grand ceremony today 4 are telephone-ladies.
Grameen Phone is a joint-venture company owned by Telenor of Norway and Grameen Telecom of Bangladesh. Telenor owns 62 per cent share of the company, Grameen Telecom owns 38 per cent. Our vision was to ultimately convert this company into a social business by giving majority ownership to the poor women of Grameen Bank. We are working towards that goal. Someday Grameen Phone will become another example of a big enterprise owned by the poor.
Free Market Economy
Capitalism centers on the free market. It is claimed that the freer the market, the better is the result of capitalism in solving the questions of what, how, and for whom. It is also claimed that the individual search for personal gains brings collective optimal result.
I am in favor of strengthening the freedom of the market. At the same time, I am very unhappy about the conceptual restrictions imposed on the players in the market. This originates from the assumption that entrepreneurs are one-dimensional human beings, who are dedicated to one mission in their business lives − to maximize profit. This interpretation of capitalism insulates the entrepreneurs from all political, emotional, social, spiritual, environmental dimensions of their lives. This was done perhaps as a reasonable simplification, but it stripped away the very essentials of human life.
Human beings are a wonderful creation embodied with limitless human qualities and capabilities. Our theoretical constructs should make room for the blossoming of those qualities, not assume them away.
Many of the world's problems exist because of this restriction on the players of free-market. The world has not resolved the problem of crushing poverty that half of its population suffers. Healthcare remains out of the reach of the majority of the world population. The country with the richest and freest market fails to provide healthcare for one-fifth of its population.
We have remained so impressed by the success of the free-market that we never dared to express any doubt about our basic assumption. To make it worse, we worked extra hard to transform ourselves, as closely as possible, into the one-dimensional human beings as conceptualized in the theory, to allow smooth functioning of free market mechanism.
By defining "entrepreneur" in a broader way we can change the character of capitalism radically, and solve many of the unresolved social and economic problems within the scope of the free market. Let us suppose an entrepreneur, instead of having a single source of motivation (such as, maximizing profit), now has two sources of motivation, which are mutually exclusive, but equally compelling − a) maximization of profit and b) doing good to people and the world.
Each type of motivation will lead to a separate kind of business. Let us call the first type of business a profit-maximizing business, and the second type of business as social business.
Social business will be a new kind of business introduced in the market place with the objective of making a difference in the world. Investors in the social business could get back their investment, but will not take any dividend from the company. Profit would be ploughed back into the company to expand its outreach and improve the quality of its product or service. A social business will be a non-loss, non-dividend company.
Once social business is recognized in law, many existing companies will come forward to create social businesses in addition to their foundation activities. Many activists from the non-profit sector will also find this an attractive option. Unlike the non-profit sector where one needs to collect donations to keep activities going, a social business will be self-sustaining and create surplus for expansion since it is a non-loss enterprise. Social business will go into a new type of capital market of its own, to raise capital.
Young people all around the world, particularly in rich countries, will find the concept of social business very appealing since it will give them a challenge to make a difference by using their creative talent. Many young people today feel frustrated because they cannot see any worthy challenge, which excites them, within the present capitalist world. Socialism gave them a dream to fight for. Young people dream about creating a perfect world of their own.
Almost all social and economic problems of the world will be addressed through social businesses. The challenge is to innovate business models and apply them to produce desired social results cost-effectively and efficiently. Healthcare for the poor, financial services for the poor, information technology for the poor, education and training for the poor, marketing for the poor, renewable energy − these are all exciting areas for social businesses.
Social business is important because it addresses very vital concerns of mankind. It can change the lives of the bottom 60 per cent of world population and help them to get out of poverty.
Grameen's Social Business
Even profit maximizing companies can be designed as social businesses by giving full or majority ownership to the poor. This constitutes a second type of social business. Grameen Bank falls under this category of social business.
The poor could get the shares of these companies as gifts by donors, or they could buy the shares with their own money. The borrowers with their own money buy Grameen Bank shares, which cannot be transferred to non-borrowers. A committed professional team does the day-to-day running of the bank.
Bilateral and multi-lateral donors could easily create this type of social business. When a donor gives a loan or a grant to build a bridge in the recipient country, it could create a "bridge company" owned by the local poor. A committed management company could be given the responsibility of running the company. Profit of the company will go to the local poor as dividend, and towards building more bridges. Many infrastructure projects, like roads, highways, airports, seaports, utility companies could all be built in this manner.
Grameen has created two social businesses of the first type. One is a yogurt factory, to produce fortified yogurt to bring nutrition to malnourished children, in a joint venture with Danone. It will continue to expand until all malnourished children of Bangladesh are reached with this yogurt. Another is a chain of eye-care hospitals. Each hospital will undertake 10,000 cataract surgeries per year at differentiated prices to the rich and the poor.
Social Stock Market
To connect investors with social businesses, we need to create social stock market where only the shares of social businesses will be traded. An investor will come to this stock-exchange with a clear intention of finding a social business, which has a mission of his liking. Anyone who wants to make money will go to the existing stock-market.
To enable a social stock-exchange to perform properly, we will need to create rating agencies, standardization of terminology, definitions, impact measurement tools, reporting formats, and new financial publications, such as, The Social Wall Street Journal. Business schools will offer courses and business management degrees on social businesses to train young managers how to manage social business enterprises in the most efficient manner, and, most of all, to inspire them to become social business entrepreneurs themselves.
Role of Social Businesses in Globalization
I support globalization and believe it can bring more benefits to the poor than its alternative. But it must be the right kind of globalization. To me, globalization is like a hundred-lane highway criss-crossing the world. If it is a free-for-all highway, its lanes will be taken over by the giant trucks from powerful economies. Bangladeshi rickshaw will be thrown off the highway. In order to have a win-win globalization we must have traffic rules, traffic police, and traffic authority for this global highway. Rule of "strongest takes it all" must be replaced by rules that ensure that the poorest have a place and piece of the action, without being elbowed out by the strong. Globalization must not become financial imperialism.
Powerful multi-national social businesses can be created to retain the benefit of globalization for the poor people and poor countries. Social businesses will either bring ownership to the poor people, or keep the profit within the poor countries, since taking dividends will not be their objective. Direct foreign investment by foreign social businesses will be exciting news for recipient countries. Building strong economies in the poor countries by protecting their national interest from plundering companies will be a major area of interest for the social businesses.
We Create What We Want
We get what we want, or what we don't refuse. We accept the fact that we will always have poor people around us, and that poverty is part of human destiny. This is precisely why we continue to have poor people around us. If we firmly believe that poverty is unacceptable to us, and that it should not belong to a civilized society, we would have built appropriate institutions and policies to create a poverty-free world.
We wanted to go to the moon, so we went there. We achieve what we want to achieve. If we are not achieving something, it is because we have not put our minds to it. We create what we want.
What we want and how we get to it depends on our mindsets. It is extremely difficult to change mindsets once they are formed. We create the world in accordance with our mindset. We need to invent ways to change our perspective continually and reconfigure our mindset quickly as new knowledge emerges. We can reconfigure our world if we can reconfigure our mindset.
We Can Put Poverty in the Museums
I believe that we can create a poverty-free world because poverty is not created by poor people. It has been created and sustained by the economic and social system that we have designed for ourselves; the institutions and concepts that make up that system; the policies that we pursue.
Poverty is created because we built our theoretical framework on assumptions which under-estimates human capacity, by designing concepts, which are too narrow (such as concept of business, credit- worthiness, entrepreneurship, employment) or developing institutions, which remain half-done (such as financial institutions, where poor are left out). Poverty is caused by the failure at the conceptual level, rather than any lack of capability on the part of people.
I firmly believe that we can create a poverty-free world if we collectively believe in it. In a poverty-free world, the only place you would be able to see poverty is in the poverty museums. When school children take a tour of the poverty museums, they would be horrified to see the misery and indignity that some human beings had to go through. They would blame their forefathers for tolerating this inhuman condition, which existed for so long, for so many people.
A human being is born into this world fully equipped not only to take care of him or herself, but also to contribute to enlarging the well being of the world as a whole. Some get the chance to explore their potential to some degree, but many others never get any opportunity, during their lifetime, to unwrap the wonderful gift they were born with. They die unexplored and the world remains deprived of their creativity, and their contribution.
Grameen has given me an unshakeable faith in the creativity of human beings. This has led me to believe that human beings are not born to suffer the misery of hunger and poverty.
To me poor people are like bonsai trees. When you plant the best seed of the tallest tree in a flower-pot, you get a replica of the tallest tree, only inches tall. There is nothing wrong with the seed you planted, only the soil-base that is too inadequate. Poor people are bonsai people. There is nothing wrong in their seeds. Simply, society never gave them the base to grow on. All it needs to get the poor people out of poverty for us to create an enabling environment for them. Once the poor can unleash their energy and creativity, poverty will disappear very quickly.
Let us join hands to give every human being a fair chance to unleash their energy and creativity.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me conclude by expressing my deep gratitude to the Norwegian Nobel Committee for recognizing that poor people, and especially poor women, have both the potential and the right to live a decent life, and that microcredit helps to unleash that potential.
I believe this honor that you give us will inspire many more bold initiatives around the world to make a historical breakthrough in ending global poverty.
Thank you very much.
Interviewed by : Nikkei staff writer Hisashi Iwato
Published On: http://asia.nikkei.comPublished date: June 10, 2016 12:30 am JST.
June 10, 2016
Muhammad Yunus, the founder of Grameen Bank and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, spoke with The Nikkei about his experience with Uniqlo and his views on social business.
Q: Why did you decide to work with Uniqlo?
A: We did not particularly choose Uniqlo. It was a chance meeting with Tadashi Yanai [the chairman and CEO of Uniqlo] that got things going. I was invited to one of his programs, and I said that we should collaborate on a social business in Bangladesh. Then he agreed. It happened just by chance, and I had no idea about Uniqlo.
I knew little about Mr. Yanai when I first met him, except that he was one of the biggest tycoons in Japan. He is a very nice person, very friendly and down to earth, with a lot of interest in helping poor people and explaining how the project could be done. I said to him, "Let's give it a try. I don't know how this will shape up, but there are lots of possibilities."
He sent some people to Bangladesh to talk to me and design a business. After all of this discussion, we came up with an idea.
Q: What is the role of Grameen Bank in the joint venture with Uniqlo?
A: Basically, our role is to clarify the concept so that the company knows exactly what it means to be a social business. It is one thing to read a book about social business, but when you design something, you have to be very clear about the concept.
A company cannot do everything. It needs direction to reach its objective. We keep the company focused on the objective and help it meet its goal. We provide support in terms of our local knowledge, for example, how to lower costs, how to do marketing, and what should and should not be included. These are not orders. We give advice, and they can decide what to accept and what to hold onto for another day.
You cannot achieve the objective from day one. It is a step-by-step journey.
The idea is, if you finally make it happen the way we imagined, other government sectors and other companies, big and small, will become interested. Everybody wants to do a social business, but they do not know how. So, it is the development of a prototype, and what we are doing with Uniqlo is a good example. Once people say, "Ah, this is what you meant. We can do that, too," it helps them on their way.
Q: How do you see the progress of your social business with Uniqlo?
A: All businesses have their ups and downs. We had problems at different stages.
In the early stages of our work with Danone [which also formed a joint venture with Grameen Bank], we had problems, too.
With what we are doing, we want to make products very inexpensive so poor people can afford them. We have to be sustainable, and at the same time, reach the poor. The hard thing to do is balance the cost and the price. It is a very difficult job.
We have similar problems in every social business we do, but nobody gave up. They simply kept trying. Giving up is not an option for us. Some solved the problem by subsidizing costs, by selling goods to the rich and using that money to subsidize the poor. That is one solution, but there are many others.
Q: What is the goal of Grameen Uniqlo?
A: We go step by step to reach our goal, which is to make inexpensive clothing for children and poor people. We have a long way to go. With Uniqlo, we still have not been able to do that. Currently, we are going slightly above those people to cover costs. The question is: How do we manage cost and get closer to our target?
Winter, for example, is a big issue for us. Winter gets very severe, and children die. So how do we make cheap winter clothing that poor people can afford? We could make warm clothing for them even if we lose money on it. We can cover the cost by selling other products to high-income people. This is one formula that we can follow.
Q: Grameen Bank has worked with many multinational companies like Danone and Veolia. Why do you work with foreign companies, and what do you need to form a good relationship with them?
A: In every case, we are very close to the people at the top of the company.
It is a very close friendship. With Mr. Yanai and Euglena [a startup that grows and sells algae], for example, we have a very personal relationship with them at the top levels, and everything happens because of that. But as time passes, not everything occurs due to personal relationships. They open up the door, but we have to design a business that makes both sides happy. That is the basis of the relationship.
Ours is a new kind of business, one where you do not work for personal profit. You do it to solve social problems. To reach a solution, both sides have to be very excited. It is a learning process, and we want to focus on a particular problem and then come up with a solution.
Q: Are there areas where you want to see other companies come in and start new social businesses?
A: Every business, whether it's large, multinational, midsize, local or small, should have a social business side. Anybody can do it. It does not cost much, but you take pleasure in knowing that you are working in a poor country, and at the same time, you are contributing to solving problems.
If you start a small social business, its impact is sympathetic. Look at Uniqlo. It's a mega-business. And look at Grameen Uniqlo. It is a tiny thing, but you are talking about it. This excites us; that even a big business can start doing good for the people. And it's true for all Japanese companies. If you want to do business in Bangladesh, Vietnam, Uganda or India, wherever you want, let us know. We are very happy to help you design a business. We are not charging you with anything. We just help by giving advice on creating a social business.
Q: Are there any limits to a social business? Are there areas where charities are better than investments, or where you have to leave it to the government?
A: It can be a mixture of charity and social business at the same time. It is not something exclusively charity or social business. Government has a role too, and we all work together.
For example, after an earthquake, you need immediate help with charity, but as you design a charity you also build up a social business. Marketing a product in an area that has been devastated is a social business. Or, we can start a social business to help build housing, and so on.
Q: Where do you think social businesses will lead to in the future?
A: Let's talk about 20 years from now. The world will be completely different from what it is right now. Technology is going to change things entirely. But my worry is wealth consolidation.
Right now, 1% of the world's population, out of 7.5 billion people, owns more than 99% of the wealth in the third world. Just think about how ugly that is. All the wealth is in the hands of a few people, and it induces a lot of explosive situations. This consolidation of wealth is a ticking time bomb, and it is getting worse every day.
I keep saying that all of us should make a pledge to ourselves; every child, young person, student and also the poor. Make a pledge: we will work for ourselves for the first fifty years and take care of us, and after that, we will work for everybody else. People create social businesses to solve the world's problems. Only then can we undo the consolidation. Otherwise, the world will be a very dangerous place.
Interviewed by Nikkei staff writer Hisashi Iwato
Yunus at Abu Dhabi Summit (Image by Leopoldo Salmaso)
20.03.2016 - Leopoldo Salmaso
Worldwide, Microcredit is associated with the name of charismatic Muhammad Yunus, 2006 Nobel Peace laureate together with Bangladesh’s Grameen Bank: “for their efforts to create economic and social development from below… Lasting peace cannot be achieved if large populations cannot find the way to escape the grip of poverty. Microcredit is one such way. The development from below also promotes democracy and human rights”.
The Grameen Bank has achieved astonishing figures in the first twelve years of its activity: nearly 3,000 delivery points with 27,000 employees across Bangladesh; loans averaging 200 US$ have benefitted 7.5 million customers in 80,000 villages, with a repayment rate close to 98%. The Grameen( meaning village in Bengali) model is replicated worldwide by public and private institutions.
Professor Yunus participated in most of the working sessions of this summit (18th Microcredit Summit, Abu Dhabi, U.A.E., March 14-17, 2016), oftentimes accepting being besieged by the participants even during intervals and afterwards. One asking for advice, someone wanting him to know about his or her organization, someone just to take a picture by his side…
Leopoldo Salmaso: Professor Yunus, now it all seems relatively easy, this Microcredit scheme, but how difficult was it to start off from scratch, especially in a poor country like Bangladesh?
Yunus: I keep saying that that was my luck, and I really believe it. If there are no obstacles, there is no stimulation to overcome them. I also say to young people today; look for challenges! Today’s young people have an incredible tool, telematic technology [branch of information technology which deals with the long-distance transmission of computerized information]. They can feel content in the leisure pursuits that it offers… or they can use it to explore a bigger world until recently unimaginable, especially in the field of microcredit. Even the virtual scenarios, with today’s technology, are a great opportunity. Because they allow you to imagine something that does not exist; and if there was no imagination like that there would be no creation of new things. Therefore I repeat to young people; look for challenges, and dream about how to overcome them!
Leopoldo Salmaso: Professor, you have repeated on several occasions that in the universe of Microcredit there is room for either pure ‘welfarist’ activities and for-profit enterprises. But the coexistence of actors with so different motivations, does it not create conflict, or at least confusion?
Yunus: The conflict is part of life, and I reiterate that the challenges are opportunities more than obstacles. The only thing that truly one owes to himself and to others is clarity. Want to make Microcredit for pure social inclusion? Welcome! Want to do Microcredit for your personal profit? Welcome! Want to do half and half, or a mix in any proportion? Welcome!
Leopoldo Salmaso: And what is your personal choice? Don’t you feel uncomfortable to be here today in this luxurious setting while thinking of the poor people who will return to besiege you tomorrow in a remote village?
Yunus: My choice was and remains to work from below. But today I am happy and grateful to be here, together with all these wonderful people who share my same goal and who declare clearly how they intend to pursue it.
Leopoldo Salmaso: You certainly deserved the Nobel Prize for Peace, but in the first instance your innovation belongs to economics: did they assign you to the wrong prize category?
Yunus: (lighting up in a knowing smile) Well, this question should be asked of them!
Leopoldo Salmaso: Well yes, but “they” – those who award the Nobel Prize for Economics – they are not the same ones who award the Nobel Prize for Peace.
Yunus: True, “they” are those of the Bank of Sweden …
Leopoldo Salmaso: The establishment of the Nobel Prize for Economics took place seventy years after Nobel. The committee dared assigning a number of “their” awards to non-orthodox economists, provided their criticism was restricted to purely theoretical grounds. So I ask: couldn’t they assign it to you, as you have put into place a practical economic revolution of historic proportions?
Yunus: (with that same smile on his face) An intriguing question… Also to be asked of them!
Leopoldo Salmaso: OK, let’s leave them alone and go back to you. As a banker you gave credit to the poor, and as a Muslim male you gave credit to the women, then you are a double revolutionary?
Yunus: I am one who likes challenges. The challenge I faced was actually a double and great one, but it was enough to pick it up and the way for its solution became obvious and workable.
Leopoldo Salmaso: You continue to be modest. The poor and the women are still the biggest victims of violence on earth. So you are a global nonviolent revolutionary.
Yunus: Thank you. But then, if nonviolence is the main road to peace, you too will have to admit that, perhaps, they did not award me the wrong Nobel!
published on 07/03/2016
KUWAIT: In an exclusive interview with Kuwait Times prior to his arrival in Kuwait, Dr Muhammad Yunus discusses his views on the global economy and the growth of microfinance in the Middle East. Some excerpts:
KUWAIT TIMES: You will be speaking at the Kuwait Chamber of Commerce on redesigning economics to redesign the world. What do you mean by this?
Professor Yunus: One of the issues I keep raising is that the problems we have created around the world for human beings are not accidental. This is by design. Not that we wanted to make this happen, but somehow these kinds of negative results came out of it – there are many positive results but there are negative results also built into the system. If you want to avoid and remove the flaws or the negative results of the current economic system, the point I have been promoting is that we have to look back to the thinking process, the conceptual framework, the entire economic thinking and entire economic system to find out the causes of the problems and remove the flaws.
For the present design or current economic system, you get the same old results – you create poverty, unemployment, health hazards and danger for the world, carbonization of the economy, and wealth concentration in a few hands. All these things are built into the current economic system. You can rethink it piece by piece but this does not solve the problem because it will come back soon unless you change the system which created it.
So, we need a redesigning process and once you redesign the process, the problems created in the past can be avoided or eliminated, and we can have a much better world than before. It is almost like building a road that leads you to a destination which is a good one, but on the way we have created problems by using this road, and if you keep on using the same road, you will just perpetuate the same problems that we have. In order to avoid these problems, we have to build a new road. We have to redesign the road in a way that those problems do not occur again and we can achieve the goals we wanted to achieve. The destination we have defined can be reached without creating a problem. This is what I have been saying – to redesign the economy to redesign the world – and this is what we will be talking today at the chamber of commerce.
KUWAIT TIMES: Microfinance has created much debate today on whether it works. How would you describe the state of this field?
Professor Yunus: You have to admit that access to capital or credit is very important. If you look at the world today, I would say probably two-thirds of the world’s population does not have access to financial services. That is the first thing that we should take care of. Money begets money. If you do not have it, you wait around to be hired by somebody and are at the mercy of others. If you have money in your hand, you desperately try to make the best use of it and move ahead. And this generates income for yourself.
I strongly believe that all human beings are very creative – full of potential, full of energy. Money allows them to express this. And if you are successful, you can make more money. You can expand your capacity, reach the next level of capacity, and so on.
If you remember long before the crisis of 2008, when financial institutions were crumbling all over the world, many of us had been saying that we need to redesign the financial system which only serves the top one-third of the world – two-thirds are left out. Microcredit has shown how you can reach out to people that conventional banking cannot. It has demonstrated that it’s a doable proposition.
When we designed microcredit, the purpose was to help people get out of poverty, but some people moved away from that motivation. Grameen is still the same. It reaches out to the poorest – the women – and has demonstrated that despite disasters, it can work.
KUWAIT TIMES: Microfinance is struggling to find its feet in the Middle East. Various reports say that institutional structures, poor regulations and a general backwardness of the financial system are hampering microfinance’s growth in the MENA region. Where do you see the role of respective countries to make microfinance a success?
Professor Yunus: We will be discussing these issues in the upcoming Microcredit Summit in Dubai in two weeks with MENA country representatives. Slowly, microcredit is taking root. Yes, microfinance has blossomed in recent years across parts of Asia and South America, but its start in the Middle East and North Africa hasn’t been as auspicious.
It is good that microfinance institutions have existed in the Middle East since the 1990s and they quickly made strides in countries like Egypt and Morocco, where large, relatively poor populations and pent-up demand for financing fed into its growth. But by the late 2000s, things stagnated. It seems to me that most of the financing firepower has become concentrated in the hands of a few players. We will discuss these issues at the summit, but I must attest that every country and region is different. I am hopeful that it takes good shape in the Middle East and MENA region.
Initially, there was confusion between microcredit and commercial banking, but now people understand these concepts. But there must be a policy in place to put microcredit to work, meaning that there must be a legal framework. There are banking laws in every country including countries in the Middle East, but banking laws are not suitable for microfinance to work properly. The existing banking law is framed for rich people. So you need to create a system or bank where poor people can have access to credit without collateral. There are nine such banks in the Middle East and I hope Kuwait will set up a bank for the poor in the future.
KUWAIT TIMES: You came up with an idea of social business, which you say is a kind of New Capitalism. Please describe this idea to us and explain how you reached it?
Professor Yunus: Social business is a cause-driven business where the investors/owners can gradually recoup the money invested, but cannot take any dividend beyond that point. The purpose of the investment is purely to achieve one or more social objectives through the operation of the company, and no personal gain is desired by the investors. The company must cover all costs and make a profit, and at the same time achieve the social objective, such as healthcare for the poor, housing for the poor, financial services for the poor, nutrition for malnourished children, providing safe drinking water, introducing renewable energy, etc in a businesslike way.
I have been proposing and practicing a new kind of business which is based on selflessness, replacing the selfishness of human beings. This type of business runs parallel to the selfishness-driven business that rules the world. Conventional business is personal profit-seeking business. The new business, which I am proposing, is personal profit-forsaking business. It is a for-profit business, but not personal profits. I call it social business – a non-dividend company to solve human problems. The owner can take back his investment money, but nothing beyond that. After getting the investment money back, all profit is ploughed back into the business to make it better and bigger. It stands between charity and conventional business. It is designed with the objectives of charity and carried out with the methodology of business, but delinked from personal profit-taking.
Charity is a great concept to help people, and has been in use since time immemorial. But it is not sustainable. Charity money goes out, does a wonderful job, but does not come back. Social business money gets the job done and then it comes back. As a result, this money can be reused endlessly. It creates independent, self-sustaining enterprises, which have their own lives. These enterprises become self-fueled entities.
The capitalist system is justified on the assumption that making money is the sole source of happiness. The more money you make, the happier you are. Money is an incentive, no doubt, but it is not the only incentive for human beings. Making money is happiness; but I feel making the world happy is super-happiness. The capitalist system is about freedom to choose. But when it comes to looking for happiness, it gives no choice. By introducing social business to make the world happy, we give people another choice. Now they can choose.
Business schools today train young people to become business-warriors to capture market and money. They are not given any social mission. If we accept the concept of social business, business schools will be required to produce another category of graduates equipping them to become social problem-fighters to bring an end to social problems through social businesses. We would need to create social stock markets to attract investors who would like to invest in problem-solving enterprises, without having any intention of making personal profits.
The impact of the business on people or environment, rather than the amount of profit made in a given period, measures the success of social business. Sustainability of the company indicates that it is running as a business. The objective of the company is to achieve social goals.
Note: Dr Bhuiyan is a professor at Kuwait University
By Dr Serajul I Bhuiyan
প্যারিস জলবায়ু পরিবর্তন সম্মেলন ২০১৫-এর ফলাফল আমাকে রোমাঞ্চিত ও আশান্বিত করেছে। চল্লিশ বছর ধরে বিশ্বাসী ও অবিশ্বাসীদের মধ্যে চলা যুদ্ধে শেষ পর্যন্ত বিশ্বাসীদেরই জয় হয়েছে। তারা সকলকে বোঝাতে সক্ষম হয়েছে যে, পৃথিবী একটি সত্যিকারের বিপদের মধ্যে রয়েছে এবং আমাদের সকলকেই একযোগে কাজ করতে হবে। পৃথিবীকে আসন্ন পরিবেশ বিপর্যয় থেকে রক্ষা করতে প্যারিস সম্মেলন ছোট-বড় সকল জাতিকে একটি আইনগভাবে বাধ্যবাধকতাপূর্ণ দলিলে স্বাক্ষর করাতে পেরেছে। রাজনৈতিক নেতা, ব্যবসায়ী, সাধারণ মানুষ সকলকে বহু বছরে সঞ্চিত দেয়াল-লিখনগুলো বোঝানোর পর্বতসম কাজটি করার জন্য আমি প্রতিনিয়তঃ এই সক্রিয় কর্মীদের ধন্যবাদ জানাই। রাষ্ট্রগুলোর মধ্যে বোধোদয় সৃষ্টির কাজটিকে তাঁদের অনেকেই আজীবন-সংকল্প হিসেবে নিয়েছিলেন। জনগণের মধ্যে যাঁরা নিশ্চুপ ছিলেন, তাঁরাও ক্রমান্বয়ে সক্রিয় কর্মীতে পরিণত হলেন। তাঁরা পরিবেশ রক্ষায় সক্রিয় এমন রাজনৈতিক নেতাদের ভোট দিলেন। পরিবেশ সচেতন রাজনৈতিক দলগুলো নির্বাচনে জয়ী হতে শুরু করলো।
প্যারিস সম্মেলনকে আমি অঙ্গীকারবদ্ধ সক্রিয় কর্মীদের নেতৃত্বে জনগণের বিজয় হিসেবে দেখছি। এই কর্র্মীরা কখনোই তাঁদের লক্ষ্য থেকে বিচ্যুত হননি। এমনকি প্যারিস সম্মেলন চলাকালে পৃথিবীর ১৭৫টি দেশে ২,৩০০টি স্থানে ৭,৮৫,০০০ মানুষ একত্রিত হয়ে সম্মিলিত কণ্ঠে তাদের ভালবাসার পৃথিবীকে রক্ষা করে একটি শতভাগ নিরাপদ ভবিষ্যতের দাবী তুলেছে। সাধারনতঃ আমরা সরকারগুলোকেই তাদের সাহসী পরিকল্পনার পক্ষে জনগণকে সংঘবদ্ধ করতে দেখি। তবে বৈশ্বিক উষ্ণায়নের ক্ষেত্রে আমরা এর বিপরীতটাই দেখতে পেলাম। এখানে পৃথিবীজুড়ে নাগরিকরাই তাদের সরকারগুলোকে চালিত করেছে।
প্যারিস সম্মেলন আমাকে এই বিশ্বাসে অনুপ্রাণিত করেছে যে, এ ধরণের গণ-আন্দোলন দিগন্তে জমতে থাকা আরেকটি আসন্ন দুর্যোগ থেকে পৃথিবীকে রক্ষা করতে পারবে। রাজনীতিতে যুগ যুগ ধরে এটি একটি উত্তপ্ত বিষয়। শতাব্দীর পর শতাব্দী এই সমস্যাটি মোকাবেলা করতে অনেক শক্তিশালী আন্দোলন, অনেক উচ্চকাংখী উদ্যোগ নেয়া হয়েছে। অনেক রক্তও এজন্য ঝরেছে। কিন্তু এর সুরাহাতো হয়ইনি, বরং সমস্যাটি প্রতিনিয়তঃ আরো ভয়ংকর হয়ে উঠেছে। সমস্যাটি হচ্ছে মানুষের মধ্যে ব্যক্তিগত সম্পদ বৈষম্যের ক্রমাগত বিষ্ফোরণ। এই বৈষম্য স্থানীয়, জাতীয় ও বৈশ্বিকভাবে ক্রমাগত বেড়ে চলেছে। অর্থনৈতিক প্রবৃদ্ধির হার যত বাড়ছে, সম্পদের বৈষম্যও ততই বেড়ে চলেছে। এই দুর্যোগটি ভয়ংকর, কেননা এটি মানুষের মধ্যে শান্তি ও সম্প্রীতি বিনষ্ট করে, মানবাধিকার ও গণতন্ত্রকে বিপন্ন করে। এটি পৃথিবীকে একের পর এক সামাজিক সংঘর্ষের দিকে ধাবিত করে। এটি জাতিসমূহের মধ্যে সামরিক সংঘর্ষ সৃষ্টি করে।
সম্পদ কেন্দ্রীকরণ সংক্রান্ত অক্সফামের তথ্য
অক্সফাম সম্পদ কেন্দ্রীকরণের উপর প্রতি বছর আমাদের ভীতিকর আপডেট দিয়ে আসছে। এ বছর তারা বলছে যে, পৃথিবীর সবচেয়ে ধনী ৬২ জন ব্যক্তির সম্পদ পৃথিবীর নীচের অর্ধেক মানুষের মোট সম্পদের চাইতেও বেশী। ২০১৫ সালে পৃথিবীর সবচেয়ে ধনী ৮০ জন এবং ২০১৪ সালে সবচেয়ে ধনী ৮৫ জন ব্যক্তির সম্পদ তখনকার পৃথিবীর অর্ধেকাংশ মানুষের মোট সম্পদের চেয়ে বেশী ছিল বলে অক্সফাম আমাদের জানিয়েছিল। ছয় বছর আগে, ২০১০ সালে, পৃথিবীতে একই ধরনের ভাগ্যবানের সংখ্যা ছিল ৩৮৮ জন। অক্সফাম আরো জানিয়েছিল যে, ২০০৯ ও ২০১৪ সালের মধ্যে পৃথিবীর সবচেয়ে ধনী ৮০ জন ব্যক্তির সম্পদের পরিমাণ বেড়ে দ্বিগুণ হয়েছে।
২০১৬ সালের জন্য অক্সফামের কিছু ভীতিকর তথ্য রয়েছে। তাদের হিসাব মতে, এ বছর পৃথিবীর ৯৯% সম্পদ সবচেয়ে ধনী ১% মানুষের দখলে থাকবে। অর্থাৎ পৃথিবীর ৯৯% মানুষের কাছে থাকবে পৃথিবীর মোট সম্পদের মাত্র ১%।
অক্সফামের এসব তথ্য এতই চমকে ওঠার মত যে প্রথমে বিশ্বাস করতে কষ্ট হয়। এসব তথ্য আমাদের মনে আরো অনেক প্রশ্নের উদ্রেক করে। পৃথিবীর ক’জন শীর্ষ ধনীর কাছে, ধরুন ২০২৫ সালে, এই গ্রহের অর্ধেক মানুষের মোট সম্পদের চাইতে বেশী সম্পদ থাকবে? কখন পৃথিবীর একজন মানুষের কাছে নীচের অর্ধেকাংশ মানুষের মোট সম্পদের চাইতেও বেশী সম্পদ থাকবে। আমাদের হয়তো বেশীদিন অপেক্ষা করতে হবেনা। মাত্র ছয় বছরে এই সংখ্যাটি যদি ৩৮৮ থেকে ৬২ জনে নেমে আসতে পারে, মাত্র একজন ভাগ্যবান ব্যক্তির কাছে পৃথিবীর অর্ধেক মানুষের সম্পদের চাইতেও বেশী সম্পদের মালিকানা চলে আসতে খুব একটা দেরী হবে বলে মনে হয় না।
মার্কিন প্রেসিডেন্ট পদপ্রার্থী বার্নি স্যান্ডার্স তাঁর নির্বাচনী বক্তব্যে বার বার স্মরণ করিয়ে দিচ্ছেন যে, মার্কিন যুক্তরাষ্ট্রে মোট জাতীয় সম্পদের ৯০% সে দেশের সবচেয়ে ধনী ০.১% লোকের দখলে রয়েছে।
এ ব্যাপারে বাংলাদেশের অবস্থা কী রকম? এদেশের ৬২ জনের হাতে, নাকি তার বেশী বা কম সংখ্যক মানুষের হাতে নীচের অর্ধেকাংশ মানুষের মোট সম্পদের চাইতেও বেশী সম্পদ কেন্দ্রীভূত হয়ে আছে। এটা নিয়ে কি কারো কোন দুর্ভাবনা আছে। কোন দেশের নীচের অর্ধেকাংশ মানুষের সম্পদের চাইতে বেশী সম্পদ যদি ১ জন লোকের হাতে কেন্দ্রীভূত হয়, তখন কী হবে? নিঃসন্দেহে তিনি হয়ে যাবেন ‘রাজা’। তাঁর ইচ্ছাই হবে দেশের আইন। এমনটা ভাবাটি কি খুব বেশী হয়ে যাবে?
সম্পদের কেন্দ্রীকরণ একই সাথে ক্ষমতারও কেন্দ্রীকরণ - রাজনৈতিক ও সামাজিক ক্ষমতা, সুবিধা ও সুযোগের কেন্দ্রীকরণ। এর বিপরীতটাও সত্য। আপনার যদি সম্পদ না থাকে তাহলে আপনার ক্ষমতা, সুযোগ, সুবিধা কিছুই নেই। পৃথিবীর নিচের দিকের অর্ধেক মানুষ যারা পৃথিবীর মোট সম্পদের ১ শতাংশেরও ক্ষুদ্রাংশের মালিক তারা এই শ্রেণীভূক্ত। আগামীকাল পরিস্থিতি আরো খারাপ হবে।
আমাদের বর্তমান অর্থনৈতিক ব্যবস্থায় সম্পদের কেন্দ্রীকরণ একটি বিরামহীনভাবে চলতে থাকা প্রক্রিয়া। আমি এই বিষয়টির প্রতিই আপনাদের দৃষ্টি আকর্ষণ করতে চাই। ধনী মানুষ মানেই কিন্তু অবশ্যম্ভাবীভাবে খারাপ মানুষ যাঁরা অসৎ উদ্দেশ্যে সম্পদকে ক্রমাগত কেন্দ্রীভূত করে যাচ্ছেন এবং মানুষে-মানুষে বৈষম্য বৃদ্ধি করছেন - এটা ধরে নেয়া ঠিক হবে না । তাঁরা ভাল হোন মন্দ হোন আমাদের অর্থনৈতিক ব্যবস্থাই তাঁদের পক্ষে কেন্দ্রীকরণের কাজটি করে যাচ্ছে। সম্পদ হচ্ছে চুম্বকের মত। চুম্বক যত বড় তার আকর্ষণী ক্ষমতা তত বেশী। সে ছোট চুম্বকগুলোকে তার নিজের দিকে টেনে আনে। আমাদের অর্থনৈতিক ব্যবস্থাটিও এভাবেই গড়ে উঠেছে। যাঁদের হাতে চুম্বক নেই তাঁদের পক্ষে কোন কিছু নিজের দিকে টেনে আনা খুব কঠিন। তাঁরা কোনভাবে ছোট একটি চুম্বকের মালিক হয়ে গেলে তা ধরে রাখাও তাঁদের জন্য শক্ত; বড় চুম্বকগুলো সেগুলো তাঁদের হাত থেকে কেড়ে নেয়। একমুখী সম্পদ কেন্দ্রীকরণের শক্তিগুলো সম্পদ-পিরামিডের আকৃতি প্রতিনিয়তঃ পরিবর্তন করে দিচ্ছে: এর ভিত্তিটা ক্রমাগত সরু হয়ে আসছে, আর এর চূড়াটা হচ্ছে আরো সরু, আরো উঁচু - যা শেষ পর্যন্ত একটি সরু কিন্তু বড় ভিত থেকে গজিয়ে ওঠা একটি শীর্ণ হয়ে আসা স্তম্ভের মতো দেখায়।
এই ভয়াবহ বাস্তবতাগুলো আমাদের প্রতিদিনকার ব্যস্ত জীবন-যাপনের মধ্যেই প্রতি মূহুর্তেই বাস্তবে রূপ নিচ্ছে। উদাহরণস্বরূপ, এই গ্রহের তাপমাত্রা নিরবে, অনেকটা আমাদের অজান্তেই কয়েক মাস আগে শিল্প বিপ্লবের সময়কালের চেয়ে ১ ডিগ্রী সেলসিয়াস বেড়ে গেছে। এই বড় পরিবর্তনগুলো লক্ষ্য না করলে আমাদের এই গ্রহটি ক্রমাগত উত্তপ্ত হতে থাকবে এবং এক সময়ে আমরা এমন এক যায়গায় পৌঁছে যাবো যেখান থেকে আর ফিরে আসা সম্ভব হবেনা। আমাদের নিবেদিতপ্রাণ বিজ্ঞানী ও সক্রিয় কর্মীদের বহু বছরের রাত-দিন অক্লান্ত পরিশ্রমই জনগণকে ঐক্যবদ্ধ ও সরকারগুলোকে চালিত করার মাধ্যমে বৈশ্বিক উষ্ণায়নের ক্ষেত্রে একটি বৈশ্বিক সমঝোতা সম্ভব করে তুলেছে।
সম্পদের কেন্দ্রীকরণ পরিবেশ বিপর্যয়ের মতোই ভয়ংকর। এই ভীতির একটি হচ্ছে, পৃথিবী ভৌতিকভাবে টিকে থাকবে কি-না। অপরটি ভীতিটি মানবতার বিরুদ্ধে, অর্থাৎ আত্মমর্যাদা ও প্রশান্তির সাথে এবং উচ্চতর আদর্শের অনুসন্ধানে বেঁচে থাকার অধিকার মানুষের থাকবে কি-না।
যদি সমাজের সকল অংশের নিবেদিতপ্রাণ বিজ্ঞানী ও পরিবেশ কর্মীদের নেতৃত্বে নাগরিকদের সম্মিলিত প্রচেষ্টা পরিবেশ বিপর্যয়ের বিরুদ্ধে আমাদের সচেতন করতে পারে, তাহলে একই রোড ম্যাপ অনুসরণ করে আমরা ক্রমাগতভাবে বেড়ে চলা সম্পদ-কেন্দ্রীকরণের আসন্ন ঝুঁকি থেকে পৃথিবীকে রক্ষার উদ্দেশ্যে মানুষকে সমবেত ও উজ্জীবিত করতে পারবো বলে আমি বিশ্বাস করি। নাগরিকদের নিজস্ব প্রচেষ্টায় সম্পদ-সামঞ্জস্যের ছোট ছোট দ্বীপ গড়ে তুলতে হবে। পৃথিবীকে, বিশেষ করে তরুণ সমাজকে, উৎসাহিত করতে হবে যে এটা করা সম্ভব এবং এটা করতেই হবে। আমাদের ভুলে গেলে চলবে না যে আমরা এমন এক যুগে বাস করছি যেখানে আমরা অসম্ভবকে দ্রুত এবং আরো দ্রুত সম্ভব করতে পারি। এটিও এমনই একটি অসম্ভব, হাজারো বাধা সত্ত্বেও যাকে আমাদের খুব দ্রুত সম্ভব করে তুলতে হবে।
এটা কিভাবে সম্ভব আমি এখন সে বিষয়ে বলতে চাই।
মানুষই সব কিছুর কেন্দ্রে
সম্পদ বিষ্ফোরণ কি বন্ধ করা সম্ভব?
আমার দৃঢ় উত্তর হচ্ছে: হ্যাঁ, সম্ভব। মানুষ চাইলে যে-কোন কিছু করতে পারে, তবে এর পেছনে দৃঢ় ইচ্ছা থাকতে হবে। সরকার ও চ্যারিটিগুলো সনাতন উপায়ে যা করে আসছে তার দ্বারা এটা সম্ভব না। প্রত্যেককে এটা তার ব্যক্তিগত অগ্রাধিকার হিসেবে নিতে হবে। মানুষকে নিজেদেরই এজন্য নেতৃত্বের ভূমিকায় এগিয়ে আসতে হবে এবং এটা সম্ভব করার জন্য উপযুক্ত নীতি-কাঠামো তৈরীতে এগিয়ে আসতে সরকারের উপর শক্তিশালী চাপ সৃষ্টি করতে হবে।
প্রায় ২৫০ বছর আগে আধুনিক পুঁজিবাদের উদ্ভবের পর মুক্ত বাজারের ধারণা দৃঢ়ভাবে প্রতিষ্ঠিত হয়েছে। বিশ্বাস করা হয়েছে যে, বাজারের “অদৃশ্য হাত” অর্থনীতিতে প্রাতিযোগিতা নিশ্চিত করে এবং বাজারে ভারসাম্য প্রতিষ্ঠা করে। আরো বিশ্বাস করা হয়েছে যে, ব্যক্তিরা যার-যার নিজের স্বার্থ অনুসন্ধান করলেই - সমাজের মঙ্গলের চিন্তা না করে - তা নিজে থেকেই সমাজের মঙ্গল সাধন করবে। এখন প্রশ্ন হচ্ছে: এই অদৃশ্য হাত কি সমাজের সকলের জন্য সমান মঙ্গল নিশ্চিত করে?
এতে কোন সন্দেহ নেই, এই অদৃশ্য হাত একান্তভাবে অতি ধনীদের প্রতি পক্ষপাতদুষ্ট। আর এর ফলেই সম্পদের এই প্রবল কেন্দ্রীকরণ কখনোই থামছেনা।
কিভাবে সম্পদ কেন্দ্রীকরণ প্রক্রিয়াকে উল্টো দিকে ঘুরিয়ে দেয়া যায়
সম্পদ-পিরামিডকে রুহিতন-আকৃতির (Diamond-Shaped) সম্পদ বন্টনে রূপান্তরের সম্ভাবনায় আমার বিশ্বাস আকাশচুম্বী হয়ে উঠেছে প্যারিসে জনগণের বিজয় দেখে। আমি এখন নিশ্চিত যে আমরা চাইলেই সম্পদের বিষ্ফোরণকে রুদ্ধ করতে পারি। প্রথমতঃ এটা কোনো অপরিবর্তনীয় নিয়তি নয় যা নিয়ে মানুষ জন্ম গ্রহণ করেছে। যেহেতু এটা আমাদেরই সৃষ্টি, বৈশ্বিক উষ্ণায়নের মতো এ সমস্যার সমাধানও আমরাই করতে পারবো। আমাদের মনের রুদ্ধতাই আমাদেরকে সমস্যাটি দেখতে দিচ্ছে না এবং আমাদেরকে বিপর্যয়ের দিকে ঠেলে দিচ্ছে। আমাদের চেষ্টা করতে হবে আমাদের অবরুদ্ধ মনকে মুক্ত করতে। প্রচলিত চিন্তাধারা, যেগুলো আমাদের এই সমস্যার দিকে ঠেলে দিয়েছে সেগুলোকে আমাদের চ্যালেঞ্জ করতে হবে।
এ সমস্যা মোকাবেলায় রাজনৈতিক প্রচারণায় সচরাচর যা গুরুত্ব পায় তা হলো আয়-বৈষম্য, সম্পদ-বৈষম্য নয়। আয়-বৈষম্যকে যে কর্মসূচির দ্বারা মোকাবেলা করা হয় তা হলো আয় পুনর্বন্টন। ধনীদের নিকট থেকে নাও (প্রগতিশীল করের মাধ্যমে) আর গরীবদের দাও (বিভিন্ন ট্রান্সফার পেমেন্টের মাধ্যমে) ।
নিঃসন্দেহে আয় পুনর্বন্টনের কর্মসূচিগুলো শুধু সরকারই গ্রহণ করতে পারে। কোনো কোনো সরকার এ কাজটি কঠোরভাবে করে থাকে, কেউ কেউ আবার এ ব্যাপারে অতোটা কঠোর নয়।
দুঃখজনকভাবে, একটি গণতান্ত্রিক পরিবেশে আয়-পুনর্বন্টনের কাজে সরকার তেমন একটা সাফল্য দেখাতে পারেনা। যাদের নিকট থেকে সরকারের বড় অংকের কর আদায় করার কথা, সেই ধনীরা রাজনৈতিকভাবে খুবই ক্ষমতাশালী। সরকার যাতে তাদের স্বার্থের বিরুদ্ধে কোনো কিছু করতে না পারে সেজন্য সরকারকে প্রভাবিত করার মতো বিপুল ক্ষমতা তাদের রয়েছে।
আমি মনে করিনা যে আয়-বৈষম্যের দিকে মনোযোগ দেয়াতে সমস্যার প্রকৃত সমাধান রয়েছে। আমাদের সমস্যার মূলে যেতে হবে, এর বাহ্যিক ফলাফলে নয়। আমাদের দৃষ্টি দিতে হবে সম্পদের বৈষম্যের দিকে, যেখান থেকে আয়ের বৈষম্য সৃষ্টি হয়। সম্পদের ভিত অপরিবর্তিত থাকলে আয়-বৈষম্য কমিয়ে আনার কোনো প্রচেষ্টা ফলপ্রসূ হবেনা। সর্বোপরি, সরকারের নগদ হস্তান্তর কর্মসূচিগুলো প্রায়ই খয়রাতি কর্মসূচি। এ ধরনের কর্মসূচি সাময়িক উপশমের জন্য চমৎকার হলেও এগুলো সমস্যার কোনো স্থায়ী সমাধান দিতে পারেনা। এগুলো বরং সমস্যাকে আড়াল করে রাখে। আইনের শাসনের প্রতি প্রতিশ্রুতিবদ্ধ গণতান্ত্রিক সরকারগুলোর পক্ষে সম্পদ পুনর্বন্টনের কাজে হাত দেয়া অত্যন্ত কঠিন। কোনো কোনো গণতান্ত্রিক সরকার দ্বারা ভূমি পুনর্বন্টন কর্মসূচিই সম্পদ পুনর্বন্টনে এ পর্যন্ত একমাত্র সফল কর্মসূচি বলে মনে হয়।
আমি এখন আপনাদের বলতে চাই, একটি সমতাভিত্তিক সমাজ প্রতিষ্ঠিত করতে হলে অর্থনৈতিক কাঠামোর পুনর্বিন্যাস কেন একান্ত প্রয়োজন বলে আমি মনে করি।
আমার ব্যক্তিগত অভিজ্ঞতা
আমি যখন পেছনে ফিরে তাকাই, আমি দেখতে পাই পরিস্থিতি কীভাবে আমাকে এমন সব কাজে ঠেলে দিলো যেগুলো সম্পর্কে আগে আমার কোনো ধারনাই ছিলনা। ১৯৭৪ সালের দুর্ভিক্ষ জোবরা গ্রামে সেচ-নির্ভর একটি তৃতীয় শস্য চাষে আমাকে এগিয়ে দিলো। এ কাজ করতে দিয়ে আমি গ্রামের মহাজনী ব্যবসার সাথে পরিচিত হলাম। মহাজনী প্রথার ভূক্তভোগীদের আমি সাহায্য করতে চাইলাম। ১৯৭৬ সালে আমি মহাজনদের কবল থেকে তাদের রক্ষা করতে নিজের ব্যক্তিগত তহবিল থেকে টাকা দিলাম। ক্রমান্বয়ে আরো বেশী লোককে ঋণ দিতে গিয়ে আমার নিজের পকেটের টাকা শেষ হবার উপক্রম হলো। তখন আমি চট্টগ্রাম বিশ্ববিদ্যালয় ক্যাম্পাসে অবস্থিত জনতা ব্যাংকে গেলাম আর তাদের অনুরোধ করলাম গরীব মানুষদের ঋণ দিতে। তারা অস্বীকার করলো। শেষ পর্যন্ত আমি নিজে জামিনদার হয়ে তাদের ঋণ দিতে রাজী করালাম। আমি প্রকল্পটির নাম দিলাম: “গ্রামীণ ব্যাংক প্রকল্প।” এরপর কৃষি ব্যাংকের ব্যবস্থাপনা পরিচালকের ব্যক্তিগত আগ্রহে কৃষি ব্যাংক সাহায্য করতে এগিয়ে এলো। তারা আমাকে কার্যত প্রধান নির্বাহী বানিয়ে জোবরায় কৃষি ব্যাংকের একটি বিশেষ শাখা খুললো, যা ঐ শাখার জন্য আমার নিযুক্ত লোক দিয়ে, যাদের সবাই ছিল আমার ছাত্র, পরিচালিত হতে থাকলো। আমি এর নাম দিলাম “পরীক্ষামূলক গ্রামীণ শাখা।” এরপর বাংলাদেশ ব্যাংকের পরিচালনা পর্ষদের কিছু সদস্যের প্রবল আগ্রহে বাংলাদেশ ব্যাংক প্রকল্পটির কাজ টাংগাইলে সম্প্রসারিত করতে চাইলো। ১৯৮৩ সালে আমরা একটি আনুষ্ঠানিক ব্যাংকে পরিণত হলাম।
তারা যা করে আমরা করি তার উল্টোটা
আমরা যা তৈরী করলাম তা কেবল আরেকটি ব্যাংক ছিলোনা; এটি পরিণত হলো প্রচলিত ব্যাংকের একটি অ্যান্টি-থিসিসে। প্রচলিত ব্যাংক যা করে, গ্রামীণ ব্যাংকে আমরা ঠিক তার বিপরীতটা করতে শুরু করলাম। প্রচলিত ব্যাংকগুলো বড় বড় ব্যবসায়ী ও ধনী ব্যক্তিদের যেখানে কর্মস্থল সেখানে কাজ করতে পছন্দ করে। ফলে তারা শহরে কাজ করে। গ্রামীণ ব্যংক কাজ করে গ্রামে। এমনকি প্রতিষ্ঠার চল্লিশ বছর পরও গ্রামীণ ব্যাংক আজো কোনো শহর বা পৌর এলাকায় তার কোনো শাখা করেনি। প্রচলিত ব্যাংকগুলোর মালিক ধনী মানুষরা। গ্রামীণ ব্যাংকের মালিক গরীব মহিলারা, এর পরিচালনা পরিষদেও এই গরীব মহিলারা বসেন। প্রচলিত ব্যাংক মূলতঃ পুরুষদের সেবা দেয়, গ্রামীণ ব্যাংক কাজ করে মূলতঃ মহিলাদের নিয়ে। প্রচলিত ব্যাংকগুলো মনে করে যে গরীব মানুষ ঋণ পাবার যোগ্য নয়। ইতিহাসে গ্রামীণ ব্যাংকই সর্বপ্রথম এই ধারনা প্রতিষ্ঠিত করেছে যে গরীব মানুষ, বিশেষ করে গরীব মহিলারা যে-কোনো ব্যাংকিং বিবেচনায় ঋণ পাবার যোগ্য। “গ্রামীণ আমেরিকা” দেখিয়েছে যে, এমনকি মার্কিন যুক্তরাষ্ট্রের মতো দেশেও দরিদ্র মহিলারা ব্যাংক ঋণ দিয়ে তাদের জীবনে চমৎকার পরিবর্তন আনতে পারে। আমেরিকার ৯টি শহরে গ্রামীণ আমেরিকার ১৮টি শাখা রয়েছে যাদের মাধ্যমে ৬০,০০০ মহিলাকে ঋণ সেবা দেয়া হচ্ছে। এঁদের সকলেই মহিলা। “গ্রামীণ আমেরিকা” এ পর্যন্ত ৩৮০ মিলিয়ন ডলার ঋণ দিয়েছে। ঋণ গ্রহীতাদের প্রথম ঋণের পরিমাণ গড়ে ১,০০০ ডলার। ঋণ পরিশোধের হার ৯৯.৯%।
প্রচলিত ব্যাংক কাজ করে জামানতের উপর ভিত্তি করে। গ্রামীণ ব্যাংকের ঋণ সম্পূর্ণ জামানত-বিহীন। ফলে এই ঋণ আইনজীবী-বিহীনও। আমরা যে ব্যাংকিং ব্যবস্থা গড়ে তুলেছি তা সম্পূর্ণ বিশ্বাসের উপর প্রতিষ্ঠিত। গ্রামীণের ঋণগ্রহীতাদের ব্যাংকের আছে আসতে হয়না, ব্যাংকই তাঁদের দোর গোড়ায় যায়। ঋণগ্রহীতারা যাতে বৃদ্ধ বয়সে নিজেদের দেখাশোনা করতে পারেন সেজন্য গ্রামীণ ব্যাংক তাঁদের জন্য পেনশন ফান্ডের ব্যবস্থা করেছে। গ্রামীণ ব্যাংক তাঁদের জন্য স্বাস্থ্য বীমার ব্যবস্থা করেছে, ভিক্ষুকদের ঋণ দিচ্ছে, ঋণী পরিবারের সন্তানদের শিক্ষা ঋণ প্রদান করছে। এই ব্যাংক তাঁদের স্বাস্থ্যসম্মত পায়খানা ও নলকুপের জন্যও ঋণের ব্যবস্থা করেছে। কোনো ঋণী মারা গেলে গ্রামীণ ব্যাংক তাঁর দাফনের খরচ আংশিকভাবে বহন করে এবং মৃত ঋণীর সকল ঋণ মওকুফ করা হয়। এই ব্যাংকে ঋণের সুদের পরিমাণ কখনোই মূল ঋণের চেয়ে বেশী হয়না, ঋণ পরিশোধ করতে যত সময়ই লাগুক না কেন।
নভেম্বর ২০১৫ পর্যন্ত গ্রামীণ ব্যাংক ১.২১ লক্ষ কোটি টাকা ঋণ দিয়েছে এবং এ সময়ে ব্যাংকের মোট আদায়যোগ্য ঋণের পরিমাণ ৯,৪০০ কোটি টাকা। একই সময়ে ঋণীদের সঞ্চয়ের পরিমাণ দাঁড়িয়েছে ১০,৮২৬ কোটি টাকা। অর্থাৎ সম্মিলিতভাবে ঋণীদের মোট আদায়যোগ্য ঋণের চেয়ে ব্যাংকে গচ্ছিত তাঁদের আমানতের পরিমাণ বেশী। কেউ বলতেই পারে, প্রকৃতপক্ষে তাঁরা ব্যাংকের ঋণগ্রহীতা নন, বরং তাঁরাই ব্যাংককে ঋণ দিচ্ছেন!
সাম্প্রতিক বছরগুলোতে বিশ্ব ব্যাংক, আন্তর্জাতিক মুদ্র তহবিল, জাতিসংঘ এবং অনেক দ্বি-পাক্ষিক তহবিল দাতারা অন্তর্ভূক্তিমূলক অর্থায়নকে উৎসাহিত করছে। প্রথাগত ব্যাংকগুলোকে দরিদ্রদের কাছে সীমিত আকারে আর্থিক সেবা পৌঁছাতে এটা উৎসাহিত করে। কেউ যদি সত্যিকারভাবে ব্যাংকিংয়ের মধ্যে অন্তর্ভূক্তিকে আনতে চান, নিশ্চিতভাবেই সেটা প্রচলিত আর্থিক প্রতিষ্ঠানগুলোর মধ্যেমে অর্জন করা সম্ভব নয়। এ-সকল আর্থিক প্রতিষ্ঠান যেসব নীতি ও কর্ম-পদ্ধতির উপর ভিত্তি করে কাজ করে তা হলো আর্থিক বহির্ভূক্তি। তাদের ডিএনএ তাদের আর্থিক অন্তর্ভূক্তির পক্ষে কাজ করতে দেবেনা।
আমরা যদি সত্যিই দরিদ্রদের কাছে পৌঁছাতে চাই, তবে আমাদের সম্পূর্ণ ভিন্ন নকশায় ভিন্ন ধরনের প্রতিষ্ঠান গড়ে তুলতে হবে। ধনীদের ব্যাংক গরীবদের সেবার নকশায় তৈরী নয়। তারা বড়জোর, উপর থেকে আসা চাপে, এনজিওদের মাধ্যমে কিছু প্রতীকি কর্মসূচি নিতে পারে, কিন্তু সেটা তাদের ব্যবসায়ের এক শতাংশের কোনো ভগ্নাংশও হবেনা। ব্যাংক-সেবা বহির্ভূত মানুষদের জন্য প্রয়োজন সত্যিকারের ব্যাংকিং, কোনো লোক-দেখানো ভালোমানুষি কর্মসূচি নয়।
ক্ষুদ্রঋণ নিয়ে আমার অভিজ্ঞতা থেকে আমি ব্যাংকিং ব্যবস্থার মৌলিক নীতিগুলো নিয়ে প্রশ্ন তুলেছিলাম। আমি যুক্তি দেখিয়ে আসছিলাম যে, আমাদের ব্যাংকিং ব্যবস্থা মানুষ সম্পর্কে যে তত্ত্বের উপর দাঁড়িয়ে আছে একজন মানুষ প্রকৃতপক্ষে তার চেয়ে অনেক বড়। গ্রামীণ ব্যাংকের ইতিহাস তারই জীবন্ত প্রমাণ।
গ্রামীণ ব্যাংকের ক্ষুদ্রঋণের ধারণা বিশ্বব্যাপী ছড়িয়ে পড়েছে কারণ এনজিওরা এটিকে গ্রহণ করেছে। কিন্তু প্রচলিত আর্থিক প্রতিষ্ঠানগুলো যেখানে পৌঁছাচ্ছে না সেই বিশাল শূন্য যায়গাটা শুধু এনজিওদের দ্বারা পূর্ণ হবার নয়। আমি যুক্তি দেখিয়ে আসছি যে, একটি সহজ পথ হতে পারে কিছু বিধি-নিষেধ আরোপ করে ক্ষুদ্রঋণ প্রদানকারী এনজিওদের ব্যাংকিং লাইসেন্স দেয়া, যাতে তারা ব্যাংক হিসেবে কাজ করতে ও আমানত নিতে পারে এবং এভাবে আত্ম-নির্ভর প্রতিষ্ঠানে পরিণত হতে পারে। আমি খুবই আনন্দিত যে, বহু বছর চিন্তা-ভাবনার পর ভারতের কেন্দ্রীয় ব্যাংক এখন ভারতের ক্ষুদ্রঋণ প্রদানকারী এনজিওদের ক্ষুদ্রঋণ ব্যাংকে পরিণত হতে লাইসেন্স দিচ্ছে। এটি হবে অন্তর্ভূক্তিমূলক অর্থায়নের পথে প্রথম সঠিক পদক্ষেপ, যদিও লক্ষ্য অর্জনে আমাদের আরো অনেক এগিয়ে যেতে হবে। ব্যাংক-সেবা বহির্ভূতদের বিভিন্ন অতি প্রয়োজনীয় আর্থিক সেবা প্রদানের ক্ষেত্রে একটি শূন্য স্থান এখনো রয়ে গেছে, যেগেুলো হতে হবে বিশেষভাবে তাদেরই জন্য প্রণীত, নিয়মিত গ্রাহকদের জন্য প্রচলিত প্রতিষ্ঠানগুলোর সেবার কোনো অতিক্ষুদ্র সংষ্করণ কেবল নয়।
আমি বহুদিন ধরেই যুক্তি দেখিয়ে আসছি যে, ঋণকে একটি মানবিক অধিকার হিসেবে স্বীকৃতি দিতে হবে যাতে এর প্রতি যথাযথ মনোযোগ দেয়া যায় এবং এটিকে তার প্রাপ্য গুরুত্ব দেয়া যায়। দরিদ্রদের জন্য একটি সম্পূর্ণ ভিন্ন আর্থিক প্রতিষ্ঠান গড়ে তোলার মাধ্যমেই কেবল আমরা এই মানবিক অধিকারটি প্রতিষ্ঠা করতে পারি।
গ্রামীণ ব্যাংকের সমালোচকরা বরাবরই বলে আসছিলেন যে, “গরীবদের ঋণ দেয়াটা আসলে অর্থের অপচয়, কেননা তারা জানেনা এ টাকা কিভাবে ব্যবহার করতে হয়। এতে কেবল তাদের ঋণের বোঝাই বাড়ে।” কিন্তু বাস্তব পরিস্থিতি একেবারেই ভিন্ন। ঋণের বোঝার পরিবর্তে গ্রামীণ ব্যাংকের মাধ্যমে তারা বিপুল সঞ্চয়ের মালিক হয়েছে, যা এখন তাদের মোট আদায়যোগ্য ঋণের চেয়ে বেশী। গ্রামীণ ব্যাংক তাদেরকে চমৎকার সঞ্চয়কারীতে পরিণত হতে, মূলধন তহবিলের গর্বিত মালিক হতে এবং আর্থিকভাবে শক্তিশালী ও দেশব্যাপী বিস্তৃত একটি ব্যাংকের মালিক হতে সহায়তা করেছে।
আমি যুক্তি দেখিয়ে আসছি যে, প্রতিটি মানুষই সীমাহীন সৃষ্টিশীল শক্তি নিয়ে জন্ম গ্রহণ করে। সমাজ তাকে তার ক্ষমতা অবারিত করার সুযোগ করে দিলে সে সবাইকে তাক লাগিয়ে দিতে পারে।
সমালোচকরা উল্টো যুক্তি দেখালেন। তাঁরা বললেন যে, “গরীবের হাতে টাকা দেয়া মানে সেটা অপচয় করা, বরং টাকাটা তারই হাতেই দেয়া উচিত যে অন্য লোককে চাকরি দিতে পারবে।” আমি বিষয়টা সেভাবে দেখলাম না। আমি দরিদ্রতম মহিলাদের মধ্যে চাপা-পড়া উদ্যোক্তার প্রতিভাটি বাইরে বের করে এনে তাদেরকে উদ্যোক্তায় পরিণত করতে চাইলাম। সমালোচকরা এই বিশ্বাস নিয়ে রইলেন যে, উদ্যোক্তা হবার বিষয়টি কেবল কিছু বিশেষ লোকের একটি ছোট্ট শ্রেণীর ব্যাপার, অন্যদের জন্ম হয়েছে তাদের অধীনে কাজ করতে।
আর্থিক প্রতিষ্ঠানগুলো এখন যেভাবে চলছে আমরা যদি তাদের সেভাবেই চলতে দিই, তাহলে সেটা সম্পদ-কেন্দ্রীকরণে ঘি ঢালারই সামিল হবে। ব্যক্তিগত সম্পদের কেন্দ্রীকরণ কমাতে হলে আমাদের দু’টো কাজ করতে হবে। বিদ্যমান আর্থিক প্রতিষ্ঠানগুলো এমনভাবে ঢেলে সাজাতে হবে যাতে তারা আর সম্পদ-কেন্দ্রীকরণের হাতিয়ার হিসেবে কাজ করতে না পারে। দ্বিতীয়তঃ দরিদ্রদের সকল ধরনের আর্থিক সেবা দেবার জন্য সম্পূর্ণ নতুন ধরনের আর্থিক প্রতিষ্ঠান গড়ে তুলতে হবে। দরিদ্ররা যাতে তাদের নিজ শক্তিতেই উপরে উঠে আসতে পারে সেজন্য আর্থিক সেবা সরবরাহ করাটা অত্যন্ত গুরুত্বপূর্ণ। এই বিশেষ ধরনের প্রতিষ্ঠানগুলোকে সামাজিক ব্যবসা হিসেবে তৈরী করতে হবে যেন তারা ধনীদের ব্যক্তিগত মুনাফা লাভের হাতিয়ারে পরিণত হয়ে তাদের পক্ষে সম্পদ কেন্দ্রীকরণ প্রক্রিয়াকে আরো শক্তিশালী করতে না পারে।
একজন ধনী কীভাবে আরো ধনী হন, তা জানতে হলে আর্থিক প্রতিষ্ঠানগুলোর দিকে ভালভাবে তাকালেই চলবে। এই প্রতিষ্ঠানগুলোই সম্পদ কেন্দ্রীকরণের চালিকা শক্তি। আমরা যদি সম্পদ-পিরামিডকে দরিদ্রদের অনুকূলে রূপান্তরিত করতে চাই, তাহলে সম্পূর্ণ নতুন ধরনের আর্থিক প্রতিষ্ঠান প্রয়োজন। বিদ্যমান আর্থিক কাঠামো এই সম্পদ-পিরামিডকে কেবল তৈরীই করেনি, একে ক্রমাগতভাবে আরো ভয়াবহ করে চলেছে।
দরিদ্রদের সাথে কাজ করতে গিয়ে আমি তাদের আরো অনেক সমস্যার মুখোমুখি হলাম। সেসব সমস্যার কিছু কিছু সমাধানেরও চেষ্টা করলাম। আমি সব সময়ই এক একটি নতুন ব্যবসা সৃষ্টি করে এক একটি সমস্যা সমাধানের চেষ্টা করেছি। একসময়ে এটা আমার অভ্যাসে পরিণত হলো: যখনই আমি একটা সমস্যার মুখোমুখি হই, তা সমাধানের জন্য আমি একটা ব্যবসা সৃষ্টি করি। শীঘ্রই আমি অনেকগুলো কোম্পানী তৈরী করে ফেললাম, সাথে কোম্পানীর মতো কিছু স্বতন্ত্র প্রকল্পও। যেমন দরিদ্রদের জন্য গৃহায়ণ, দরিদ্রদের জন্য স্বাস্থ্যসম্মত পায়খানা, স্বাস্থ্য সেবা, নবায়নযোগ্য শক্তি, পুষ্টি, পানি, নার্সিং কলেজ, চক্ষু হাসপাতাল, অটোমেকানিক ট্রেনিং স্কুল, এবং আরো অনেক।
ক্রমান্বয়ে এগুলো কিছু সাধারণ বৈশিষ্ট্য নিতে শুরু করলো। এগুলো তৈরী হলো টেকসই ব্যবসা হিসেবে, কিন্তু এগুলো থেকে কেউ কোনো ব্যক্তিগত মুনাফা নিতে পারবে না। বিনিয়োগকারী তাঁর বিনিয়োজিত টাকা ফেরত নিতে পারবেন, তবে এর বেশী নয়। কোম্পানীর মুনাফা কোম্পানীতেই পূনর্বিনিয়োগ করা হবে তার উন্নয়ন ও সম্প্রসারণের জন্য। এই নতুন ধরনের ব্যবসাকে আমি নাম দিলাম “সামাজিক ব্যবসা”: মানুষের সমস্যা সমাধানের জন্য ব্যক্তিগত লভ্যাংশ-বিহীন ব্যবসা।
আমি অবাক হয়ে দেখলাম, ব্যবসা থেকে ব্যক্তিগত লাভের প্রত্যাশা না করে কেবল সমাজের সমস্যা সমাধানের লক্ষ্যে কোনো ব্যবসা সৃষ্টি করলে তা দিয়ে মানুষের বিভিন্ন সমস্যা সমাধানের কাজটা কত সহজ। আমাদের সবসময় বলা হয়েছে যে, ব্যবসা নামের এই যন্ত্রটির একটিই ব্যবহার আছে, আর তা হচ্ছে টাকা বানানো। আমি এই যন্ত্রটিকেই সম্পূর্ণ ভিন্ন উদ্দেশ্যে ব্যবহার করলাম, অর্থাৎ মানুষের বিভিন্ন সমস্যা সমাধানের কাজে। আর এ কাজে ব্যবসাকে আমি অত্যন্ত শক্তিশালী ভূমিকায় দেখতে পেলাম। হঠাৎ করে সমস্ত সৃষ্টিশীল শক্তিকে একটি লক্ষ্যে - মানুষের সমস্যা সমাধানে - এই যন্ত্রটির পেছনে সম্মিলিত করা সম্ভব হয়ে উঠলো।
আমি ভাবলাম, পৃথিবীতে সমস্যা সমাধানের কাজটি কেন শুধু সরকার বা চ্যারিটির উপর ছেড়ে দেয়া হলো? আমি এর জবাব খুঁজে পেলাম। কারণ অর্থনৈতিক তত্ত্বে ব্যবসার দায়িত্ব সুনির্দিষ্ট করে দেয়া হয়েছে। তাদের একমাত্র লক্ষ্য টাকা বানানো। মানুষের সমস্যা সমাধানের কাজটি ছেড়ে দেয়া হয়েছে সরকার ও চ্যারিটির উপর। একজন ব্যবসায়ী কেবল আত্ম-স্বার্থ দ্বারা পরিচালিত হবেন, এমনটাই সুনির্দিষ্ট করে দেয়া হয়েছে। তাঁর কাছে ব্যবসা মানে ব্যবসাই। কিন্তু প্রকৃত মানুষতো টাকা বানানোর রোবট নয়। মানুষ একটি বহুমাত্রিক প্রাণী, যার মধ্যে স্বার্থপরতা ও পরার্থপরতা দু’টোই আছে। আমি যখন একটি সামাজিক ব্যবসা তৈরী করি, তখন আমি পরার্থপরতাকে ব্যবসায়ের মধ্য দিয়ে প্রকাশের সুযোগ করে দিই। পুরাতন ব্যাখ্যা অনুসারে পরার্থপরতা ব্যবসায়িক জগতের অংশ হতে পারেনা, এটি চ্যারিটির জগতের অংশ। আমার যুক্তি হচ্ছে, মানুষের ডিএনএ-তে পরার্থপরতা থেকে থাকলে সেটাকে ব্যবসার জগত থেকে দূরে রাখতে হবে কেন? ব্যবসার জগতে স্বার্থপরতা ও পরার্থপরতা দু’টোকেই পক্ষপাতহীনভাবে চলতে দেয়া উচিত। অর্থশাস্ত্রের টেক্সট বইগুলোর উচিত ছাত্রদের দু’ধরনের ব্যবসার সাথেই পরিচিত করানো: আত্ম-স্বার্থ চালিত ব্যবসা ও পরার্থপরতা-চালিত ব্যবসা। কে কোনটা বেছে নেবে - তারা কি বিভিন্ন অনুপাতে দু’ ধরনের ব্যবসারই কোন সংমিশ্রণ তৈরী করবে, নাকি তারা প্রত্যেকটিই আলাদাভাবে প্রতিষ্ঠা করবে - তা তরুণ ছাত্রদের উপরই ছেড়ে দেয়া হোক।
আত্ম-স্বার্থ চালিত ব্যবসায়ে অনেকেই তাঁদের স্বার্থপরতাকে চূড়ান্ত রূপে প্রকাশ করেন, তাঁরা সীমাহীনভাবে লোভী হয়ে ওঠেন। টাকার জন্য নেশাগ্রস্ত হয়ে পড়েন। এই প্রক্রিয়ায় মানবজাতি তার মানবীয় পরিচিতি হারানোর প্রায় একেবারে শেষ প্রান্তে পোঁছে গেছে। মানুষ প্রকৃতপক্ষে ভালবাসা, সহানুভূতি, সহমর্মিতা ও বন্ধুত্ববোধ সম্পন্ন একটি সত্ত্বা। আমরা যদি এমন একটি তাত্ত্বিক কাঠামো গড়ে তুলতে পারি যা আমাদের চরিত্রের গভীরে প্রোথিত মানবিক মূল্যবোধগুলোকে আমাদের অর্থনৈতিক জীবনে প্রকাশিত হবার সুযোগ করে দেবে, তাহলে আমরা সম্পদ-পিরামিডকে সম্পদ-রুহিতনে (Wealth-Diamond) পরিণত করতে পারবো। এই মূল্যবোধগুলো সামাজিক ব্যবসার মাধ্যমে পরিষ্ফুট হয়ে আমাদের সেখানে পৌঁছে দিতে পারে।
সামাজিক ব্যবসাকে দু’টি প্রেক্ষিত থেকে দেখা যেতে পারে। চ্যারিটির দৃষ্টিকোণ থেকে একে টেকসই দাতব্য প্রতিষ্ঠান হিসেবে দেখা যায়। ব্যবসায়িক দৃষ্টিকোণ থেকে একে পরার্থপর ব্যবসা হিসেবে দেখা যেতে পারে। সামাজিক ব্যবসার একটি বড় জিনিষ এই যে, এর পেছনে কাজ করে সদিচ্ছা, কোনো বাধ্যবাধকতা নয়। কেউ তার ইচ্ছা মত সামাজিক ব্যবসা করতে বা তা থেকে বেরিয়ে আসতে পারে। এতে মানুষ স্বাধীন বোধ করে, কী করতে চায় তা ঠিক করতে পারে।
আমি আনন্দিত যে সামাজিক ব্যবসার ধারণাটি পৃথিবীর সকল দেশে সকল শ্রেণী-পেশার মানুষের কাছে দিন দিন জনপ্রিয় হয়ে উঠছে। বিশ্ববিদ্যলয়গুলো সামাজিক ব্যবসা কেন্দ্র চালু করছে, বহুজাতিক কোম্পানীগুলো সামাজিক ব্যবসা চালু করতে এগিয়ে আসছে, তরুণ প্রজন্ম এই ধারণার প্রতি আকৃষ্ট হচ্ছে। আমরা মানুষরা নিজেরাই আমাদের সব সমস্যা সমাধান করতে সক্ষম - এই ধারণায় বিশ্বাসী মানুষের সংখ্যা দিন দিন বৃদ্ধি পাচ্ছে। তারুণ্য, প্রযুক্তি ও সামাজিক ব্যবসার সম্মিলিত শক্তি একে সম্ভব করে তুলবে।
প্রযুক্তি প্রচন্ড গতিতে প্রসারিত হচ্ছে। আজ যা অসম্ভব, তা কালই সম্ভব হচ্ছে। প্রযুক্তির ক্ষেত্রে পরিবর্তন প্রতিনিয়ত এত দ্রুত ও নাটকীয়ভাবে ঘটছে যে তা আমাদের আর অবাক করেনা। অবিশ্বাস্য তথ্য প্রযুক্তির পুরো শক্তিটা ভোগ করছে তরুণ প্রজন্ম। তারা তাদের পূর্ববর্তী প্রজন্মের চেয়ে অনেক দ্রুততার সাথে নতুন প্রযুক্তিকে আত্মস্থ করতে পারে। তাদের কল্পনার শক্তিই কেবল নতুন নতুন প্রযুক্তির সীমানা। তাদের কল্পনা যতো সাহসী, তাদের অর্জনও তত বড়। তারা যদি এমন বিশ্ব কল্পনা করতে শুরু করে যেখানে কোনো সম্পদ বৈষম্য থাকবে না, আমি নিশ্চিত করে বলতে পারি যে সম্পদ বৈষম্য বলে কিছু থাকবে না। তারুণ্য, প্রযুক্তি ও সামাজিক ব্যবসার মিলিত শক্তি হতে পারে অপ্রতিরোধ্য।
শিক্ষাকে মূল ভূমিকা পালন করতে হবে
সম্পদ কেন্দ্রীকরণের সমস্যা বিষয়ে মানুষকে সচেতন করতে হলে শিক্ষাকে মূল ভূমিকা পালন করতে হবে। আমাদের শিক্ষা ব্যবস্থার লক্ষ্য পূনঃনির্ধারণ এক্ষেত্রে খুবই গুরুত্বপূর্ণ। এর অনেক উচ্চাকাংখী লক্ষ্য থাকা সত্ত্বেও আমাদের শিক্ষা ব্যবস্থার মূল কাজ হয়ে গেছে তরুণদেরকে চাকরীর জন্য তৈরী করা। ধরে নেয়া হয় যে, প্রতিটি তরুণকেই চাকরী খুঁজে নিতে সক্ষম হতে হবে। চাকরী খোঁজার সক্ষমতার কাছে শিক্ষার আর সকল উদ্দেশ্যই গৌণ হয়ে গেছে। শিক্ষার উদ্দেশ্য হওয়া উচিত নিজেকে আবিষ্কার করতে ও জীবনের লক্ষ্য খুঁজে পেতে একজন তরুণকে সাহায্য করা। এ
Victory of the People
Outcome of Cop 21 got me thrilled and inspired. After 40 years of battle between believers and non-believers finally believers won. They persuaded everyone that the world is in real danger, and we must act collectively. Paris got all the nations, big and small, together to sign on a legally binding agreement to protect the planet from impending climate disaster. Everyday I feel like thanking all the activists who have gone through an uphill task to convince political leaders, businesses, and ordinary people, year after year to show the writing on the wall. Many took it as their life-long campaign to bring the nations to their senses. Citizens who were on the sidelines gradually became activists. They voted for political candidates who supported climate action. Political parties started getting elected to power because they are green.
I see Paris as the victory of the people led by the committed activists who never gave up campaigning for their cause. Even during the Paris conference over 7,85,000 people marched at 2,300 events in 175 countries united in one voice calling for a 100% clean energy future to save everything they love. Normally we expect governments to mobilize public opinion behind their brave actions. In the case of global warming it was the reverse. It is the citizens of the world who mobilized their governments.
Paris inspires me to believe that this kind of citizen's movement can make the world ready to overcome another impending disaster which has been looming on the horizon. This has been a hot subject in politics for ages. Many powerful movements, many ambitious initiatives have been taken over centuries to address this problem. Much blood has been shed over this issue. But it not only does not go away, it gets more threatening than ever. This is the problem of ever-exploding gap in private wealth. It keeps ongrowing locally, nationally, and globally. As the economy grows concentration of private wealth gets worse. Faster the rate of growth, faster is the rate of concentration of wealth. This disaster is dangerous because it destroys peace and harmony, it threatens human rights and democracy. It pushes the world towards social explosions each worse than the previous ones. It triggers armed conflicts among nations.
Oxfam Updates on Wealth Concentration
Oxfam has been giving us horrifying updates on wealth concentration each year. This year they tell us that 62 richest people own more wealth than owned by bottom half of world population. In 2015 they reported that the 80 richest people, and in 2014, according to them 85 richest people owned more wealth than owned by the bottom half of world population. In 2010, six years back, it was 388 richest people who had the pleasure of owning similar wealth. They also told us that wealth of 80 richest people doubled in five years, between 2009 and 2014.
Oxfam has a terrifying projection for 2016. During the current year, they projected, the richest 1% of the world will own 99% of the world's wealth. That means 99% of the people will be left with only 1% of the wealth.
This information is so unbelievable that it takes time to absorb. We feel like asking many more questions. How many of world's richest people will own more wealth than owned by the bottom half of the world population, say, in 2025? It is obvious that if the number can drop from 388 persons to 62 persons in six years we are just one small step away from one lucky person owning more wealth than owned by bottom half of the world population!
US presidential candidate Bernie Sanders keeps reminding in his campaign speeches that in the USA, the top 0.1% owns 90% of the nation's wealth.
What about Bangladesh? Is it 62, or more, or less, of the richest owning more wealth than owned by the bottom half of the country's population? Does it interest anyone to find the number? How long will it take to reach a point where only one person will own more wealth than owned by bottom half of the people of Bangladesh? Obviously he will be the 'King'. His wishes will be the law of the land. Does it sound too far-fetched?
Concentration of wealth also means concentration of power -- political and social, privileges, and opportunities. The reverse is also true. If you don't have any wealth, you have no power, no privileges, no opportunities. The bottom fifty percent of the people of the world who own only a tiny fraction of 1% of the global wealth, belong to this category. Tomorrow it will be worse.
Concentration is an ongoing non-stop process under the present economic system. That's the point I am drawing your attention to the richest people are not necessarily bad people, as popularly imagined, engineering the ever-expanding concentration of wealth with bad intentions. It is the system which does it for them. Wealth is like a magnet. The bigger the magnet the greater is its pulling force. It draws smaller magnets towards it. That's how the economic system is built. People with no magnet find it difficult to attract anything to them. If they somehow own some tiny magnets, retaining them becomes difficult for them. Bigger ones pull them to themselves. Unidirectional forces of concentration of wealth keep changing the shape of wealth-pyramid making its base thinner and its peak narrower and higher, ultimately looking like a thinning column rising out of a thin but large base.
These are horrifying realities which are taking shape minute by minute, while we are busy with our daily chores. For example the temperature of our planet quietly reached 1 degree Celsius, above the temperature during the industrial revolution, only a few months back, without drawing much attention. If we don't take heed of such major milestones our planet will keep getting warmer and warmer, and at one point we will reach the point of no return. Had it not been for the dedicated scientists and activists, who worked day and night over years, to galvanize a citizen's network and mobilize the governments forging a collective decision on global warming. Wealth-concentration is as dangerous as environmental threat. One is a physical threat against the existence of the planet; another is a threat against humanity, against the right of the people to live with dignity and peace pursuing higher ideals.
If the collective efforts of citizens led by committed group of scientists and activists from all sections of society could make us aware of climate danger, I believe by following the same roadmap we can galvanize forces to protect humanity from the danger of its destruction through ever-intensifying wealth-concentration. Citizens have to create little islands of wealth harmony through their efforts. They have to inspire the world, particularly the youth that this can be done and must be done. We have to remind ourselves that we are in an era where impossible become possible faster and faster. This is one impossible that we'll have to make possible very fast irrespective of all the hurdles in reaching it.
Let me share some of my thoughts on how we can make it happen.
People at the Centre
Can wealth explosion be stopped?
My firm answer is, yes, it can be done. Human beings can do anything they want. There must be a strong desire behind it. Old ways of doing it through government and charities alone cannot do it. People will have to take it up as their personal priority. People will take the lead in doing it themselves and then put strong pressure on government to move in the direction of creating right kind of policy packages to facilitate this.
Since the appearance of modern capitalism around 250 years back, the concept of free market has been well established. It has been believed that an invisible hand ensures competition in the economy and thus, it contributes to the equilibrium in the markets. It is also believed that society is benefited automatically if individuals pursue their own benefits without paying any attention to social benefits. Now the question is: Does the invisible hand ensure benefits equally for everybody in the society? Obviously the invisible hand is dedicatedly biased to the richest. That's why enormous wealth concentration continues.
How Can We Reverse Wealth Concentration?
My faith in the possibility of transforming a wealth-pyramid gradually into a new shape, wealth-diamond -- very few at the top, and very few at the bottom, bulk of the people in the middle, simply sky-rocketed after the victory of the people in Paris. Now I feel confident that wealth explosion can be arrested.
First of all it is not an unalterable fate that mankind was born with. Since it is our own creation, we can solve it through our own efforts, same as global warming. It is our blocked mind which prevents us from seeing the problem that is pushing us towards this explosion. Our efforts should be directed to unblock our minds. We must challenge the existing paradigms which led the world to this problem. The usual political agenda to reduce the problem focuses on income-gap, not on wealth-gap. It is done through a programme of income redistribution -- taking from the top (through progressive taxes) and giving it to the bottom (through various transfer payments).
Obviously only governments can undertake income redistribution programmes. Some governments carry out this programme with toughness, some do it in a relaxed pace. Unfortunately in a democratic environment a government cannot achieve any significant success in a redistribution programme. People at the top from whom the governments are supposed to collect heavy taxes are politically very powerful. They use their disproportionate influence on the governments to restrain them from taking any meaningful step against their interest.
I don't think addressing income inequality is a real answer. We will have to address the cause, not the manifestation of it. We must address the wealth gap which is the cause of the income gap. If we keep the wealth base unchanged any reduction in income gap will be ineffective. On top of that, governments' cashtransfer programmes are usually charity programmes. Charity programmes are excellent as temporary relief, they cannot give permanent solution to the problem. Rather they hide theproblem. Democratic governments committed to the rule of law find it extremely difficult toembark on wealth redistribution.Land distribution seems to be the only successful wealth distribution programme undertaken by some democratic governments.
While governments should continue with their redistribution programmes, I am proposing to bring the citizen's power to transform the wealth-pyramid into a wealth-diamond. Central point in my proposal is to redesign the economic framework by moving from personal interest driven economics to both personal and collective interest driven economics.
I want to tell you why I think redesigning of economic framework is the essential task in achieving an egalitarian society.
My Personal Journey
As I look back, I see how circumstances pushed me into doing things which I knew nothing about. Famine of 1974 pushed me into growing an irrigated third crop in the village of Jobra. This introduced me to the money lending operation in the village. I wanted to help the victims of money lenders. In 1976 I offered to lend them from my pocket to protect them from money lenders. My money was running out as I gave loans to more and more people. I went to the bank, Janata Bank, located in the Chittagong university campus inviting them to offer loans to the poor. They refused. Finally I persuaded them by offering myself to become the guarantor. I called the project Grameen Bank Project. Then came the Krishi Bank to help me because of the personal interest taken by its Managing Director. They opened a special branch in Jobra with me as its de facto head, operating with staff that I recruited for the branch, all of whom were my students. I called it experimental Grameen branch. Later Bangladesh Bank wanted to expand it to Tangail because of strong support from some board members of Bangladesh Bank. In 1983 we became a formal bank.
Everything They Do, We Do the Opposite
What we created was not just another bank. It turned out to be an anti-thesis of a conventional bank. Everything a conventional bank did we started doing the opposite in Grameen Bank. Conventional banks love to operate where businesses and rich people locate their offices. As a result, they work in the cities. Grameen Bank (GB) works in the villages.
Even after 40 years GB does not have any branch in any city or municipal area. Conventional banks are owned by rich people, GB is owned by poor women. Poor women sit in its board. Conventional banks serve mostly men, GB focuses on women. Conventional banks believe that poor are not creditworthy. GB established for the first time in history that the poor people, more so poor women, are creditworthy in any formal banking sense. Grameen America has shown that even in the USA poor women can demonstrate amazing ability to handle bank credit to transform their lives. Grameen America has 18 branches in 9 cities in the USA with 62,000 borrowers, all of whom are women. It has given out a cumulative amount of $ 380 million with average start up loan of $ 1,000 and repayment rate of 99.9%.
Conventional banks operate on the basis of collateral, GB is collateral free. Therefore, it is lawyer -free. We have developed a banking system based on trust. In GB, borrowers don't come to the bank, the bank goes to borrowers wherever they live. GB created pension fund to make sure that borrowers can take care of themselves during their old age. GB offers health insurance, loans to beggars, student loans for the children of GB families, loans for sanitary latrine, tube wells. GB partially covers the funeral cost of the borrowers, loans are written off when a borrower dies. In GB total interest on loan cannot exceed total principal no matter how long it takes to repay.
By November, 2015, cumulative disbursement of loans of the bank came to Tk 1.21 lakh crores and total loan outstanding stood at Tk 9,400 crores. The balance in the savings account of borrowers stood at Tk 10,826 crores. This means borrowers now have more money in their saving accounts than their total loans outstanding. One can say, in reality, they are the lenders to the bank, rather than borrowers of the bank.
In recent years the World Bank, IMF, UN, and many bilateral donors are promoting inclusive finance. It is mostly manifested inencouraging conventional banks to take steps to provide limited financial services to the poor. If anybody aims at inclusiveness in banking with any seriousness, definitely it can't be achieved through conventional financial institutions. These financial institutions are built on principles and mode of operation which promote financial exclusion. Their DNA will not allow them to work for inclusion. If we wish to reach the poor, we need to build separate institutions with completely different architecture. Rich people's banks are not designed to serve the poor. They may take some token actions through NGOs, under pressure from above, but that won't constitute even a fraction of one percent of their business. The unbanked of the world need real banking, not some "let-us-look-good" actions.
Through my work with microcredit I questioned the very basics of the banking system. I kept pointing out that real human beings are much bigger than the human beings assumed in the theory on which banking system is designed. Story of Grameen Bank is a living proof of that. Grameen Bank's microcredit idea flourished globally because NGOs took it up. But NGOs are not the answer to fill the vacuum left by existing financial institutions. I have been arguing that one easy way would be to give banking licenses, with some restrictions, to the microcredit NGOs, to operate as banks and take deposits, so that they can become self-reliant institutions. I am very happy to see that after many years of bringing it up, now Reserve Bank of India is issuing licenses to microcredit NGOs in India to become microcredit banks. This is the beginning of the right steps towards inclusive financing. But there is still a long way to go. There is an empty space for providing varieties of essential financial services to the unbanked, exclusively designed for them, not just offering them nano-versions of what is being done by the conventional institutions for their regular clients.
I have been arguing for years that credit should be recognized as a human right, so that it can be addressed seriously, and be given the importance it deserves. We can establish this human right only by creating complete financial system for the poor.
Critics of GB always pointed out that the loans it gives is actually wasted because the poor don't know how to use the money. It only adds to their debt burden. The reality turned out to be far from that. Instead of accumulating debt burden they accumulated large savings, now bigger than their outstanding loans. GB helped them to prove themselves to be excellent savers, proud owners of investment capital, and owners of a financially robust nation-wide bank. I have been arguing that all human beings are born with unlimited creative power. If the society gives them the chance to unleash this power it will surprise everyone.
Critics argue the opposite. They warned us not to waste our money by giving it to the poor people, rather to give it to people who can employ them in large numbers. I did not see it their way. I wanted to turn the poorest women into entrepreneurs by bringing out their suppressed talent of entrepreneurship. The critics seem to believe that entrepreneurship belongs only to small class of special people, the rest are born to work for them.
If we leave the financial institutions unchanged, they will only keep on adding fuel to the wealth concentration. To slow down concentration of private wealth two things need to be done. Existing financial institutions have to be redesigned to make sure they cannot remain to be the facilitating vehicle for wealth concentration. Secondly, we need to build an entirely new set of financial institutions to deliver all financial services to the poor. It is extremely important to provide financial services to the poor so that they can move up on their own. These exclusive institutions should be designed as social business rather than allowing them to become instruments of personal profit making for the rich, which in turn would strengthen the wealth accumulation process for them.
If one wants to find out why the wealthy becomes wealthier, all one has to do is to look closely at the financial institutions. They are the engines which drive wealth concentration. If we wish to see change in the wealth-pyramid in favour of the poor, a new financial system is a must. Existing system has not only created the wealth-pyramid, it is making it worse at a faster and faster rate.
Working with the poor led me to many other problems of the poor. I tried to address some of them. I always tried to solve each problem by creating a new business. Over time it became a habit with me. Every time I confront a problem I created a business to solve it. Soon I created many companies, and company-like independent projects, such as, housing for the poor, sanitary toilets for the poor, health care, renewable energy, nutrition, water, nursing college, eye care hospital, auto mechanic training school, and many more.
They gradually started displaying some common features. They are created as sustainable businesses, but no one is allowed to take any personal profit out of it. Investor gets back the investment money, nothing more. Company's profit is ploughed back into the company for improvement and expansion. I called this new type of business social business, defined as a non-dividend company to solve human problems.
I was amazed how easy it was to solve human problems if we designed it as a business with the sole mission of solving a problem, and with no intention to benefit personally from the business. We are always told that business-engine was designed for only one use, making personal money. I used the same engine for a completely different purpose, that is, to solve human problems. I found it extremely powerful in getting the job done. Suddenly all the creative power could be marshaled behind this engine for one specific purpose -- solving human problems. I wondered why the world left the problem-solving to the governments and charities alone? I found my own answer. It was because business world was given a very clear mandate by the economic theory. Their only mandate was to make money, leaving the people's problem to be addressed by governments and charities. A businessman is supposed to be driven by self-Interest. To him business is business.
Human beings are not money making robots. They are multi-dimensional beings with both selfishness and selflessness. When I create a social business I am allowing theselflessness to be expressed through business. Old interpretation says selflessness cannot be a part of the business world, it is to be expressed in the world of charity. My point is if human being has selflessness in his DNA, why should it not be allowed in the business world. Business world should be an unbiased playground for both selfishness and selflessness. Economics text book should introduce two types of businesses to the students, self-interest driven business and selflessness-driven business. Let the young people decide whether they would like a cocktail of bothbusinesses mixing them in various proportions, or enjoy each one separately.
In the world of selfishness driven business, many express their selfishness in its extreme form, they become limitlessly greedy. They become addicted to money. In the process mankind has been brought to the verge of losing its human identity. A human being is a person of love, empathy, compassion, and fellow feeling. If we create a conceptual framework that allows us, indeed encourages us, to express our deep rooted human values in our economic life we can transform the wealth-pyramid into a wealth-diamond. These values can be expressed through social business to take us there.
Social business may be seen from two perspectives. From charity side we can look at it as sustainable charity. From business side we can see it as a selfless business. Great thing about social business is that it is done by choice, no compulsion is involved. One can go in and out of social business as one likes. This makes people feel free. They can decide what they want.
I am glad social business is drawing attention from all sections of people from all around the world. Universities are opening social business centers, multinational companies coming forward to set up social businesses, young people are getting attracted to the idea. More and more people are convinced that as human beings we are capable of solving all our problems. Combined power of youth, technology, and social business will make it happen.
Technology is expanding exponentially. What is impossible today, becomes possible tomorrow. Dramatic changes take place in technology in such quick succession that it does not surprise us anymore. Young people are the beneficiaries of the full power of this incredible technology. They absorb the new technology much faster than the older generation. It is only the power of their imagination which limits the exploitation of each new technology. The bolder their imagination the greater is their accomplishments. If they start imagining a world where wealth disparity shall not exist, I can guarantee you it will not exist. The combined power of the youth, technology, and social business can become an irresistible force.
Education has to Play the Key Role
Education has to play the key role to bring the wealth concentration problem to the consciousness of people. Reorientation of education system is vital. Despite its ambitious goals, education system has basically become a training ground for preparing young people to be job-ready. It is assumed that every young person has to be able to find a job. Job is such an overriding issue that all other purposes for education had to take a back seat. Education is supposed to help a young person to discover himself and to find meaning of his life. The motto was to “Know Thyself.” Now most of the time he is kept busy to “Know Thy Boss.”
I find it extremely demeaning to imagine such a fate for human beings. I see human beings as beings much larger than spending life time trying to fit themselves into the wishes of their bosses. I see human beings as go-getters, creator of new horizons, and problem solvers.
We are not Job Seekers, We are Job Creators
Human beings are packed with unlimited creative capacities. They have to discover their potential during their life time. Task of education is to introduce them to their potential as a human being, so that they become aware of their power, they start imagining the use of their power. The least education should do is to prepare them as entrepreneurs- as job creators, not as job seekers. There is a world of difference between the two. By training young people as jobseekers we create unemployment because there is no job for everybody. If we had prepared them as job creators, there would be no unemployment.
Can everybody be an entrepreneur -- a question that is frequently asked. Entrepreneurship is natural to human beings. That's how we began life on this planet. Millions of microcredit borrowers all around the world are entrepreneurs. If illiterate rural women can become entrepreneurs, why should we question the entrepreneurial ability of the educated young? All they need is a supportive financial system.
We have created social business funds, as the supportive financial institution. We are asking young people to come up with business ideas. When they come we invest in their businesses. We become their partner, like an angel investor with one exception, we don't take any profit from them because we are social business. Once they are successful they buy back our shares without giving us any profit. They pay a share transfer fee, a fixed fee to help us cover our management and advisory services.
Now thousands of young people, boys and girls, are running their businesses with partnership with us. We encourage young people to believe and practice that "we are not job seekers, we are job creators".
I am very happy to see that Indian Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi has been repeating again and again in his speeches to the young people of India that "we are not job seekers, we are job creators". He has established a refinancing bank, called Mudra Bank, to support the actual implementation of the programme. I hope he succeeds in building up a support system to make it real.
Once we get our education system transformed to produce creative ntrepreneurs, the global picture of wealth gap will start changing. If we leave the talented young people with the destiny of making other people rich, wealth- oncentration will continue to soar. We cannot let our young people become mercenaries for wealth concentration.
To counter the concentration of wealth we need a two-way flow of wealth, instead of a one way flow. Present flow takes wealth upwards to the wealthy. We need a flow which will bring wealth from the wealthy to the wealth-less. I see social business as this new force. Whether it will be as strong as the existing upward moving force will depend on how strongly people rally around it.
Resources for Social Business
As I go about promoting social business concept, I feel happy to receive warm response from all countries. Now social businesses are growing up in many countries. While discussing social business a question always comes up:
where can we find the investment funds to enable social businesses to spread around the world?
Existing investment funds are available only to personal profit making enterprises. The more personal profit you can promise or deliver the more investments you get. These investors have no reason to pay attention to social business. Where should social business look for investment funds? Of course, it has to come from the selfless part of human beings. Selflessness has the best expression in the charity world. Anything that happens in charity world gives us a measure of selflessness that is already expressed. It is a matter of time to see how to convert some charity money into social business investment money. After all charity and social business has the same root. Both focus on helping people.
Charity has been with us since time immemorial. It has been recognized as an integral part of human beings. All religions put great emphasis on it. Islam puts it up as one of its five fundamental pillars, and requires every Muslim to give away 2.5% of wealth and income every year. Imagine how much potentially this sum is. If we add up the amount actually paid out every year that will be a huge sum too.
Total amount of charity given out by US public charities (organizations based on raising money from general public and others) each year is over $1.6 trillion dollars. They have combined assets of over $3 trillion dollars.
These two I mention as examples. There is an enormous variety of charities with huge amounts all around the world.
In addition we can go over the innumerable stories of personal giving. Mark Zuckerberg is a recent one. He announced on the occasion of the birth of his daughter that he would donate 99% of the shares of Facebook to charities over course of time. The present value of this is $45 billion. He started out by giving away one billion dollar a year. I find it a very interesting case of selflessness. It was done on the occasion of the birth of his first child. Usual story would be that father handing over the inheritance to his new-born ahead of time as a gesture of love. Mark did the opposite. He deprived the child from inheritance by giving away his wealth for creating a better world for her. Usually one gives away wealth at the end of one's life. Mark made a remarkable decision; he gave away nearly all his wealth at the beginning of his life. He is only 31. Since the beginning of Facebook Mark takes a salary of only one dollar as the CEO of Facebook. He already signed up "The Giving Pledge" when he was 27. Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett signed a promise in 2010, they called "The Giving Pledge ", in which they promised to donate to charity at least half of their wealth over the course of time, and invited others among the wealthy to donate 50% or more of their wealth to charity. The Giving Pledge started out with 40 multi-billionaires. Now there are 141 multi-billionaire signatories.
I highlight the case of Mark because he is young. He is at the age when one is expected to be ambitious about money, and remain busy with “building the future". He has been doing the opposite. Mark may represent a new trend among the young generation. They are different. They are more committed to
the creation of a better world then just making their fortune. The old generation may be holding them up by passing on their old structures to them.
As the idea of social business becomes popular a part of charity money, wherever the law or religious requirements will allow, will start flowing into social business. And that flow will continue to grow. As decisions are taken, a question will arise, should I give it to charity or rather give it to a social business fund. Individuals, charities, foundations, companies will see social business as a sustainable charity, where the same money can be used endless times.
Selflessness in the Business World
But what about business money? Will the business door remain ever closed to social business? I don't think so. Already there are many examples of selflessness in the existing business world. There were many even in the past. Unfortunately they were never made part of business school curriculum. I give two outstanding examples from the past, which are still going strong.
Bosch is a 130 year old German multinational engineering and electronics company, with an annual revenue of $ 50 billion. It is a familiar name throughout the world. Not many people know that it is owned by Bosch Foundation. Founder of the company created a foundation to own the company. Only 8% of the shares were given to the family. It is still that way. Foundation manages the company and use the profit for charitable activities. If we are looking for an example how business and selflessness can be combined Bosch is a good example. This is what I call type 2 social business, a company owned by a trust or a foundation to solve human problems.
Another example is again a household word in many parts of the world, particularly in South Asia. This is Tata. Founder of Tata did the same thing 128 years ago. Two-third of the shares of Tata group of companies, worth $118 billion, is owned by Tata Trust.
There are endless examples, big or small, old and new, all around the world. These are examples of defiance of the capitalist rules, but done in a smart way so that they could not be excommunicated from business world. They led the initiative to create a new business world. These examples could have been followed boldly and massively. But orthodox theory of business did not recognize them.
Corporates and Social Business
Besides individuals, corporates can also invest insocial business. Usually corporates create foundations for their companies. They can easily direct the foundations to invest in social businesses. Foundations can invest in regular companies, and make money to invest in social businesses, like in Bosch and Tata examples. In addition, corporates can create social businesses as their subsidiaries, can have joint ventures with other social businesses. Already we have many excellent examples of joint venture social businesses created
by Danone, Veolia, Uniqlo, Intel Corporation, McCain, Euglena, and others.
Corporates can do something else. They can invite their shareholders to sign a "giving pledge". Shareholders will be asked to give their consent to allow a percentage of their dividends to be deducted to go into a social business fund as their equity. In case of necessity these shares in the fund can be sold to another social business investor at the face value. That way their money is not gone forever.
Corporates can use their annual CSR contribution to go into a social business trust.
I have been trying to draw attention of investment funds to a similar programme. They manage huge funds. Total worldwide assets invested in mutual funds alone amounts $30 trillion. There are many types of investment funds. All put together it amounts to ocean of money.
My proposal to them is to give each individual investor a choice whether he/she would like to set aside, say, 2.5% (or more, or less) of his assets to create a sort of recoverable endowment fund. Annual Income from this recoverable endowment fund then can be invested in social businesses. All that an investor has done is to sacrifice the income of 2.5% of his assets to achieve some social objectives, without sacrificing his assets. If the companies agree and the investors agree this recoverable endowment fund can potentially be enormous.
I have been suggesting to top policy-makers of giant pension funds to apply the same policy to create recoverable endowment funds. Globally pension funds have a combined total asset of $ 84 trillion. All they need to do is to take the initiative to write to their investors about the plan and seek their consent by signing up. I did not get positive response yet. They explained that nobody will respond positively to this idea because all that the investors want is the growth of their funds, they are not interested in giving. I politely pointed out that they may be surprised by the responses, they may be completely contrary to their expectation. I tell them if you don't ask you'll never know what surprise is waiting for you. I have concrete experience of seeing a Fortune 500 company asking a similar question to all its shareholders and getting a totally unexpected positive from 98% of shareholders. Of course, not in every occasion we may be as lucky as that. All shareholders or investors may not sign up after the first call. If some of them sign up that will be the beginning of a great story. It will snowball if the result produced by social businesses is convincing.
It is all about taking initiative. It may begin with one pension fund in one city. No matter how small the response, it opens up a door which may get wider over time. But a beginning has to be made. We have no reason to hide behind our age-old conviction that investors are interested in nothing but making money. They see nothing else, and hear nothing else. We must remain aware thatthe world and people are changing. They have started tobehave differently. Their behavioral pattern will continue to undergo changes.
Money generated from the recoverable endowment fund borne out of pension funds can be invested in taking care of all old people, from the richest to the poorest, with differentiated prices. It will create social businesses to provide health insurance, health facilities like hospitals, clinics, nursing services, income opportunities, hospice care, old people’s home, housing, sports, travel etc.
Social Business Day
Whenever people look for ways to bring down the wealth-gap they will find social business as a very powerful tool to make it happen. Social business will slow down the process of accumulation at the top while people at the bottom will build up their asset base and retain whatever they earn.
All of us present here today on the occasion of the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Daily Star can play our role too. All of us can examine the concept to see if it makes sense. Each one of us can come up with social business ideas. Idea is the most precious thing in social business. Each one of us can decide to invest in social business directly or through others who are involved in it. We can earmark 5% of our annual income and put it in a separate account, sort of personal social business fund, toinvest in social businesses. To give a simple idea, anyone can transform 5, 10, 25 or more unemployed youth into entrepreneurs. We can show you how we are doing it. You may like it.
We hold a big event Social Business Day each year. This year it will be held on July 28-29. In addition to sessions devoted to exchanging experiences in social businesses throughout the world, we will hold Country Forums to let the delegates from each country exclusively country-wise sessions to discuss plans for social businesses in their own countries. They will bring business leaders, political leaders, academics, foundation leaders, to participate in these country forums. Of course, among other countries, there will a Bangladesh Forum on social business. You can take a lead role in organizing the Bangladesh Forum, or be an active participant in it. Bring your friends too. The Forum will conclude by announcing what social business action plan it has adopted for Bangladesh.
You may like to think about what you can do in slowing down wealth concentration. You can play a role in reducing wealth gap with some simple steps. Think about creating your own "giving pledge" or create a collective giving pledge with your friends and your business partners. You may decide to make a "will" now, to leave most of your wealth or at-least half of your wealth duringyour life time, to a social business fund of your own, or toa trust dedicated to solving human problems through social businesses. You may think about leaving all your companies in the hands of a trust. That way your wealth will perpetuate and grow as Bosch's and Tata's grew, and contribute fundamentally in changing the country, as well as the world.
I remind everyone that making money is happiness, but making other people happy is super happiness. Don't miss the super happiness. It is better to act now, than later, so that you can see things happening and enjoy the super happiness resulting from it, rather than waiting for things to happen when you are no longer around.Invite your children to run social business funded by your trust or social business funds. You will be surprised to see how much they are enjoying doing that. Instead of just being successful second generation entrepreneurs they may become global celebrities by creating and successfully replicating social businesses globally. They will enjoy being leaders of the new global generation.
Anybody above a certain level of wealth may make a will to give away his or her wealth to social business trusts or funds. Their children may remain involved in these trusts or funds, so that they don't feel they are left out of the control of their parents wealth. You'll be amazed how you and your family can impact on the whole world.
If you wish to take any one of these initiatives, we at Yunus Centre would be happy to offer our services to make it happen. Don’t hesitate to contact us. In addition, to experiment with social business you can create a joint venture with your friends, or yourinternational business partners, and see how it feels. It could be as small as you want. Size is no issue. The purpose is the issue. Bangladesh has been apioneer in bringing down poverty by half. World hasapplauded it. We can be the leader in reversing the process of wealth inequality too. Instead of allowing inequality toincrease each year, faster than previous year, we can make it decline each year, as the economy grows. Then we can call for a global Paris conference (may be Dhaka conference) to bring all the nations of the world to tell the story how we made it happen, who did what in the process. The conference will end by inviting the UN to convene a conference to let every nation declare a deadline when it will stop the increase in wealth gap and reverse the process. It would be similar to the global commitment to stop the increase in global temperature and hold it under 1.5 degree Celsius.
Wealth-concentration is a global threat. It has already entered the danger zone this year with 99% of wealth going to 1% of people. Not only it is getting worse globally, it is getting worse within nations, and between nations. Wealth gap between nations is always a threat to peace. Historically some nations had accumulated more wealth than others. Some nations took unfair advantages over other nations in accumulating their wealth. There are old scores to settle and there are new scores taking shape. This leads to confrontations, conflict, and wars. If a nation feels threatened they hike up their military budget, which is shockingly huge already. Present annual global military expenditure stands at over $1.7 trillion. US alone accounts for 39% of this total. If the wealth-concentration within and among nations become acute social, political and economic compulsions for armed conflicts will become imminent.
The time is ripe for us to recognize the gravity of the situation on wealth-concentration, and take actions against it. As we learn from the process of arriving at an international consensus on global warming we can initiate a similar process to build a global consensus on bringing the speed of wealth concentration to zero in phase one, and making it negative in phase two. Both global warming and wealth concentration arise from the same root -- a flawed economic framework based on human greed.
We can undo both by reinventing ourselves in the economic world as caring and sharing human beings. We may aim at creating a world of three zeros: zero poverty, zero unemployment, and zero net carbon emission. A world of diamond-shaped wealth distribution. A world of equality, harmony, peace and happiness. It can happen only if we citizens get into the action.
At this gathering on the occasion of The Daily Star's 25th anniversary I would humbly propose to take the initiative to make Bangladesh the starting point for a global wave of actions against wealth-concentration.
Let's do it.
(Delivered at the 25th Anniversary event of the Daily Star on February 5, 2016 in Dhaka.)
No, the support is not outsourced to partners. Grameen Communications has developed an elaborate MIS and accounting system software for all the NU projects. In addition to collecting financial information on a daily basis, this system records detailed data about yearly stock of assets, sales and inventory. It is through this monitoring system that daily figures can be sent via text/SMS messages. All of the information accumulates at the central server, which auto-generates reports for each investor daily, monthly or as desired. The NU can also view his business performance information by logging on to the system. If there is a notable difference in the figures, the Fund representative is able to meet with the entrepreneur to immediately discuss the issue and find a solution.
Undeclared policy at the moment is to support an NU until total asset in his business reaches up to USD 14,000. After NU reaches this limit the policy may be reviewed.
What is Yunus Social Business Centre?
Yunus Social Business Centre is a research hub for Social Business. A Social Business Centre under the Yunus name follows the principles and guidelines provided by Professor Muhammad Yunus, and tries to determine the role of Social Business in solving society’s most pressing problems. The idea of social business is spread among the university students via a Yunus Social Business Centre. Different books, magazines, journals and publications on social business are kept in the centre.
Beyond the activities in the base university Yunus Social Business Centre also conducts social business workshops in different universities. The centre organizes social business planning contests and guides everyone in addressing social problems through social business. Yunus Social Business Centre is usually setup at the university corridor following a few rules and regulations.
Prerequisites for establishing Yunus Social Business Centre:
First of all, in order to open a social business centre at any university the university President or Dean or Nominated facilities authority must send an application addressed to Yunus Centre, Dhaka. Subsequently the concerned Yunus Centre officials will get in touch with the university authority and guide them on the next steps. If the university wants to use the ‘Yunus’ name then they must take consent from Yunus Centre. But if the ‘Yunus’ name is not included in the title then no permission should be needed for inaugurating any social business centre.
Secondly, If the university authority uses the ‘Yunus’ name in the title then they must follow certain stipulations after being granted the permission from Yunus Centre for using the name. A contract paper is signed after each party reaches an agreement. Prior to the signing of the contract a draft contract paper is forwarded to the university authority for feedback.
Afterwards, the contract is signed with the acceptance of both parties in the presence of Professor Muhammad Yunus. Professor Muhammad Yunus meets the teachers and students and mentors them on the next undertakings. The authorized or nominated personnel of the university and Executive Director of Yunus Centre signs the agreement for using the “Yunus” name.
How the expenses of the centre are paid:
The social business centre is opened on the corridor of the university. The university authority sanctions a room for the centre so that it can have an official address. The students are often very keen to provide voluntary services for such research-based works. Workshops are arranged on social business in the corridor and outside of the university. The centre could gain marginal fees from organizing social business planning competitions. The centre also takes advising fees for providing counseling services to the entrepreneurs or investors interested in social business.
The centre has a regulatory committee that governs the activities of the centre. The elected committee keeps in constant touch providing updates to Yunus Centre. As of today, 20 universities from around the world have launched Yunus Social Business Centre. Social business scholarships have been introduced along with the offering of social business courses. Some universities have decided to include social business in their core syllabus.
For using the “Yunus Name”:
Being the official headquarter for social business only “Yunus Centre” in Dhaka is entitled to use the “Yunus” name. If anyone for the purpose of administering any social business/ social business fund/ social business centre/ social business design lab/ social business city/ social business club/ social business organization or for any reason has the interest to use the “Yunus” name then he/she has to take permission from Yunus Centre, Dhaka following the terms and conditions for using the name. After compliance between both parties they sign a contract form for using the name. The Executive Director or any other authorized official on behalf of Yunus Centre and the nominated personnel from the second party signs on the contract form.
For using the name of ‘Yunus’, and to ensure that organization adheres to objective of helping the poor, or achieving a specific goal or promoting the concept of social business the following terms and conditions have to be accepted:
1.For the use of “Yunus” name the organisation will provide an operational report and a financial report audited by a reputed audit firm for each calender year by March of the following year. If the audited financial report is not received by YC for two consecutive years, “Yunus” name may be withdrawn by a notice from Yunus Centre.
2.Yunus Centre would get minimum of one seat on the Board.
3.Yunus Centre will have veto power in policy matters relating to keeping the organisation on track on its social goal, and maintain its social business commitment
4.Yunus Centre will expect that its guidance on matters relating to the ideas and philosophies of social business as detailed by Professor Muhammad Yunus, will be carefully followed.
5.Yunus Centre can walk away with “Yunus” name in case of a conflict on the interpretation of the concept of social business.
6.Before the Yunus organisation in launched, the CEO or his deputy has to undergo an orientation visit to Yunus Centre in Bangladesh.
7.The organization will have to pay an initial registration fee of $2,500 to the Yunus Centre and a yearly renewal fee of US$ 1,000. In special cases registration fee can be reduced or waived.
8.This agreement does not give any exclusivity in the use of the “Yunus” name within the institution or within any geographical area. It does not allow the organization to allow another organization under it or associated with it to use the name.
9.The logo and name of Yunus Centre cannot be used in connection with any events, publications, papers, displays without prior written approval.
First Party Representative:
Position:Ms. Lamiya Morshed
Executive Director Yunus Centre
Address: Grameen Bank Bhaban (16th Floor)
Telephone: 880 2 9035755
Date: 10th October, 2014
Second Party Representative:
Memorandum of Understanding
This Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) is entered between:
1.Yunus Centre (Grameen Bank Tower, 16th Floor, Mirpur 2, Dhaka – 1216, Bangladesh), hereinafter referred to as Yunus Centre or YC.
Yunus Centre Dhaka, Bangladesh is a social business hub for issues related to social business, working in the field of poverty alleviation and sustainability. It is 'aimed primarily at promoting and disseminating Professor Yunus’s philosophy, with a special focus on social business and is currently Chaired by Prof. Muhammad Yunus.
2.xxxx University (address of the organization), for the creation of YSBC, xxxx University.
3.University will create the Yunus Social Business Centre (YSBC), xxxx University and enter into this Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to develop and expand a framework of cooperation between Yunus Centre and xxxx University for the creation of YSBC, xxxx University to promote Professor Yunus’s vision of alleviating poverty by implementing the concept of Social Business via mutual understanding and cooperation through:
a)Promoting mutual understanding and co-operation in areas of common interest in education, research, information gathering and action plans so as to depend and understanding of each other’s cultures and values that drive business and social changes.
b)The implementation of any activities under this MOU shall be the responsibility of a Director designated by xxxx University. The Director shall act as the principal contact for individual and group activities, distribute information, review and evaluate activities and propose additional initiatives.
The above goals will be accomplished by undertaking the following activities:
1.YSBC, xxxx University will be represented by a Board or committee constituted by the university authority which will conduct annual reviews of the organization to align its tasks towards the mission.
2.As part of the mission to promote Social Business YSBC, xxxx University will organize student service learning trips so students can learn first-hand techniques and programs which have been set up to assist the economic development of the poor in developing countries.
3.At least one senior faculty member (preferably at the Professor level and preferably from the School of Business or Economics) will be appointed as a director of the Centre with at least one full time staff.
4.It will have a clear budget approved by the university and a business plan outlining proposed programs, activities.
5.It will update the information on the social business pedia www.socialbusinesspedia.com regularly.
6.For the use of Yunus name an agreement will be signed with the Yunus Centre.
7.Yunus Centre, Dhaka and xxxx University will be happy to collaborate with the YSBC, xxxx University for promoting Social Business. This will be achieved through, but not limited to, social business action programmes, couses, research, publications, conducting social business design labs, conferences, exchange programmes, academic workshops, exposure visits, internships and scholarship programmes.
8.This MOU between Yunus Centre, Dhaka and xxxx University shall remain valid for an unlimited period unless it is amended or dissolved. Any one party may dissolve it by addressing a letter to the other party.
9.This MOU shall become effective upon signature by the authorized officials from the Yunus Centre, Dhaka and xxxx University and will remain in effect until modified or terminated by any one of the partners by mutual consent.
10.This MOU is legally non-binding. This is only for the purpose of recording the common interest of both the parties.
First Party Representative:
Second Party Representative:
Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr Muhammad Yunus part of team working to bring down other walls
Image Credit: Gulf News Archives
Dr Younus is among a group of eminent ersonalities in the UN Millennium Development Goals advocacy group.
To galvanise support for the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon established the advocacy group in June 2010.
A group of eminent personalities who have shown outstanding leadership in promoting the implementation of these goals, in fields such as education, food, security, health, environment and empowerment of women, were selected for the task.
The idea is to develop political will and mobilise global action to achieve these goals. The target date for total realisation of these goals is 2015. The Fall of the Berlin celebration is one among many programmes that the MDG Group has lent its support to. The basic premise being that when they are united, people can achieve the impossible.
Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr Muhammad Yunus is one among these achieving personalities who is a member of this elite action team. Dr. Yunus, who created Grameen Bank to ensure economic and social development among the poor, especially women, spoke to Gulf News in an interview.
GULF NEWS: What inspired you to become part of the MDG advocacy group?
Dr. Muhammad Yunus: I was invited by the Secretary-General of the UN to become part of the MDG Advocacy Group. I consider the UN Millennium Development Goals as an excellent charter for where we, as a global community, want to see ourselves as human society in the coming years.
Our work in Bangladesh and elsewhere in developing microcredit and social business to help transform the lives of the poor, especially women, has global applicability regardless of culture or context. My work with the Advocacy Group is to see how these experiences can help shape policy and institutions that can effectively address global poverty and other pressing social issues.
GN: Do you realistically believe that the fall of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago will inspire nations globally to cement age old wounds, political and ideological differences given the unhealthy environment of violence which seems to be consuming nations?
Yunus: The Fall of the Berlin Wall was a very powerful symbol of making possible something that was once considered impossible. Even days before the tearing down of the wall, no one thought it could happen. But it did and without a gun being fired. The celebration is about imagining what other walls need to come down in the world, whether it’s the wall of poverty or of unemployment, and then setting to work to tear those walls down too.
GN: Germany is united and yet, 25 years later, people and businesses from East Germany are limping to catch up with Western standards. Why is this so and what needs to be done despite generous support by the Federal government?
Yunus: There were deep differences in the way East and West Germany were run in terms of freedoms that people enjoyed and the choices they could make. It will take time for the East to progress but I have no doubt it will happen especially if we have a framework for equitable development, especially of the kind that I have been espousing through social business.
GN: You have already marked 500 days of the Millennial Development Goals till your 2015 target of addressing poverty. Where does this body stand now in terms of achieving their target?
Yunus: Before the MDGs were crafted, there was no common framework for promoting global development. It was the most important set of decisions ever taken on basis of global consensus with quantifiable goals.
Several global MDG targets have been met. The world is in the process of reducing extreme poverty by half. Bangladesh is a good example in this regard, particularly in poverty reduction. The goal was to reduce poverty to 29 per cent by the year 2015. Two years ahead of time, in 2013, it has been possible to bring this down to 26.2 per cent. Bangladesh has already achieved gender parity in primary and secondary enrolment.
Globally, access to an improved drinking water source became a reality for 2.3 billion people. Disparities in primary school enrolment between boys and girls are being eliminated in all developing regions. Over a quarter of the world’s population has gained access to improved sanitation since 1990.
Of course there is still a lot to be done. But I argue that if we can bring global poverty to half, there is no reason why we cannot take it to zero. Same for all the other goals.
GN: What have been the crucial lessons that you have learnt since you started your landmark movement of providing the poor, especially women, with credit facilities?
Yunus: All human beings are very creative — full of potential, full of energy ... So, microcredit allows them to express it. I came to believe that credit is a human right. I have learnt that people can create their self-employment with the credit; all we need to do is to provide an institutional mechanism to support them. If we can provide them credit to generate income for themselves, they can ensure food security, water security and more importantly education and health care.
GN: Has your concept of microfinance left you satisfied with its progres?
Yunus: As of 2014, the total borrowers of the Grameen Bank number 8.5 million, and 97% of those are women. The experience has been replicated around the world.
But still credit is not yet available to all as conventional banking system dominates today’s financial world. The global number of potential micro-borrowers is estimated to be more than 1 billion, with a total loan demand of $250 billion (Dh918 billion). We need provide them with access to credit.
But we have to go even beyond that. We also need a business model that does not strive to maximise profits but rather to serve humanity’s most pressing needs. Social business offers a workable framework for tackling social issues by combining business. Now I believe we have to substitute current faulty economic system with an actor who seeks self-interest in collective well-being of all and this is social business.
A social business is a non dividend company that solves human problems. It brings the power of business to solve the world’s intractable problems with no intention of making personal profit out of it. We have created a series of such businesses in Bangladesh and around the world.
GN: What is your solution to the economic woes that currently plague Europe?
Yunus: Currently in many European countries, some citizens have been living entire lives while being dependent on state for support; not only this, generation after generation their unwillingness to come out of this dependence persists. The reason behind this is that, state is very active to bring citizens under welfare program while not taking active role to bring out them from dependency cycle. Like unemployment, this is also a human made crisis.
If a fraction of capital out of total sum of money state spends for an individual who is entirely dependent on state, is given as capital for investment, individual would not just come out of dependence permanently, moreover an individual would create employment opportunities for others, keep respective next generation from state dependence and pay income tax to state controlled fund as tax payer.
In Bangladesh, we have started providing equity as social business to help young entrepreneurs creating new business, where other institutions shun them. We believe a social business fund to provide equity to young unemployed in this way to become entrepreneurs can be replicated in other countries including those in Europe where there is very high unemployment. Our program has been running for a couple of years, but has shown very good results so far.
GN: The Nobel Peace Prize has once again returned to the Subcontinent where it is being shared between an Indian and a Pakistani activist … the Nobel Committee’s principal desire was also to ensure that India and Pakistan settle their age-old differences — do you think that this is realistically possible?
Yunus: I believe peace is possible. When we think about the EU, the enmity there was even more deeply rooted and historical than the rivalries between India and Pakistan. There is a good symbolism in sharing the Nobel Peace Prize jointly between an Indian and a Pakistani. Hopefully, this will bring affirmative change. The only way is through greater people to people connectivity and informal and unofficial contacts and activities between private citizens can bridge difference in culture, religion, beliefs and traditions.
By : Robin Chatterjee, Senior Associate Editor,
Published on: November 9, 2014
Published By: www.gulfnews.com
In partnership with the African Development Bank (AfDB), Yunus Social Business (YSB) Tunisia launched its operations in 2013, with the goal to promoting and creating an environment within which social businesses can thrive in Tunisia.
With the launch of an intense two-month Accelerator Program in May 2014, which culminated in an Investor Day in July 2014. Eleven projects got accelerated; financing of three social businesses has already been approved.
Yunus Social Business (YSB) India’s social businesses are financed by the Yunus Social Business Fund Mumbai (YSBFM). Since 2011, 6 social businesses received financing of almost $580,000, addressing a range of social issues in India focusing mainly on health, sanitation and micro-entrepreneurship. YSB has further mobilized $2.4 million from its co-financers.
Yunus Social Business (YSB) Haiti funded and supported the launch of 7 social businesses, which have received almost $1 million in financing from YSB, and a further $300,000 has been mobilized from YSB’s co-financers. YSB Haiti’s major partners include DEG, SAP, PADF and Deutsche Bank.
In March 2013, YSB Brazil was launched to spread the social business concept throughout Brazil; Rio was officially declared a ‘Social Business City.’
In 2013, Yunus Social Business (YSB) Albania funded and supported the launch of 3 social businesses with more than $260,000 in financing, with a further $34,000 mobilized from YSB’s co-financers.
The Social Business Design Lab is a daylong program for the people who are interested in social business. This Design Lab is structured in a way to train, brainstorm and involve its participants in social business and as well as develop new ideas.
The Yunus Centre is the hub of social business activities. Since its inception, the organization has been the one-stop resource center for all social business related activities around the globe. It keeps the spirit of the global social business movement very high through various events, social media, publications, and websites. The Yunus Centre also helps forge lasting, productive relationships among all social business institutions around the world (the "Project"). The Centre is chaired by Nobel Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus.
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