Muhammad Yunus মুহাম্মদ ইউনুস

Lerner Hall, Arledge Cinema. Columbia University

Today, I had the pleasure of meeting Muhammad Yunus. In 2006, He, along with Grameen Bank had the honour of being the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize "for their efforts to create economic and social development from below."

An amazing and articulate speaker; Dr. Yunus outlined his vision for a new business model that combines the power of free markets with the quest for a more humane world—and told the inspiring stories of companies that are doing this work today.
'Social Business' was the term he used to describe his ideas.

He related the story of the genesis of his ideas:
In 1974 we ended up with a famine in the country. People were dying of hunger and not having enough to eat. And that's a terrible situation to see around you. And I was feeling terrible that here I teach elegant theories of economics, and those theories are of no use at the moment with the people who are going hungry. So I wanted to see if as a person, as a human being, I could be of some use to some people, outside of the university campus where the villages are. Go out in the village, be with the people, see if I could be of any use to anybody even for a day. So this is what I was doing, and as I did for days, I was doing that, I started noticing something very ruthless. This is the operation of mone
y laundering.

People lend a small amount of money to poor people in the village and practically take over the control of their entire life, just for a few cents or few dollars worth of money. It's not millions of dollars people are waiting for, it's few pennies that people were looking for that's not available. So I looked at that and I saw the problem is so serious, so big, but the solution suddenly appeared to me so simple. I thought if I give this 27 dollars from my pocket, the problem of this 42 people is solved. They can take this 27 dollars, pay back their moneylenders, no way they can control their lives anymore. They will be free people. Immediately I did that. I took the money from my pocket, gave it to them, and told them return the money, be free.

And it created such an enormous reaction, they were so happy. Looking at them later on, as I went the next few days, I thought if you can make so many people so happy with such a small amount of money, why shouldn't you do more of it? So I went to the bank. I thought, this was such a simple solution, he would be excited to do that. He said no. Bank cannot lend money to the poor people. I said this is such small money, you'll not miss this money. He said no, it's not the question of the amount of money, it's the principle: Bank cannot lend money to the poor people.

...Now I was becoming kind of stubborn. Why shouldn't they do it? Such a small amount of money. And they're wasting so much money lending money to the rich people who never pay back. Then I learned something from their conversation, I used that. I said, why didn't you accept me as a guarantor? I'm your guarantor. I'll sign any paper you give me. So you save your rules, and I'll get the money. This time it worked, because I'm speaking their language. And the bank manager told me, Say goodbye to your money because it's not going to come back. I said I'll take a chance, I don't know how it'll happen. Then I came up with simple rules to encourage people to pay back and it worked, and that was the beginning of microfinance.

Key ideas I took away from the afternoon:
* Business can have a social benefit where personal profit is not the goal.
* Grameen Bank is now operating in Jackson Heights, Queens as Grameen America with an average loan of 2200 dollars.
* 100,000 beggars are the recipients of loans in Bangladesh. Over 10% of those have left begging with the new skills they have acquired.
* Some multi-national corporations such as Danon are making an effort to be socially responsible by partnering with Grameen and creating a yogurt for children with essential nutrients for health and growth.

His latest book is called A World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism.