Professor Muhammad Yunus recently paid a visit to Grameen Foundation headquarters, meeting with leaders and speaking to staff (as well as to staff from RESULTS) during a visit to Washington, DC. Todd Bernhardt, Grameen Foundation’s Director of Marketing and Communications, was part of an audience who listened to Professor Muhammad Yunus speak, and provides this update on his recent activities.
It’s hard to believe that it was only a bit more than three months ago that microfinance pioneer and Nobel Peace Prize winner Professor Muhammad Yunus stepped down from his post as Managing Director of Grameen Bank, the poverty-fighting organization that he founded in the late ‘70s. During the government’s campaign to remove him from office (read this Fact Sheet to find out more), many Grameen Foundation supporters voiced their concern about Prof. Yunus and the independence of Grameen Bank, and have wondered about his activities since then, asking us to provide an update. A recent visit by Prof. Yunus to Washington, DC, provided us with an opportunity to catch up with him personally, while demonstrating to everyone who spoke with him that his commitment to fighting poverty through innovative solutions remains as firm as ever.
Grameen Foundation President and CEO Alex Counts welcomes Prof. Yunus (right) while Microcredit Summit Campaign Director and RESULTS founder Sam Daley-Harris listens.
Prof. Yunus stayed in Washington from Aug. 10-13, giving a keynote speech at the annual forum of InterAction (an alliance of U.S.-based international NGOs focusing on the world’s poor and vulnerable populations), making several media appearances (he spoke with NPR’s Kojo Nnamdi and Andrea Stone at The Huffington Post) and meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as well as officials from the U.S. Agency for International Development.
He also met with a number of leaders in the international-development community – including Grameen Foundation President and CEO Alex Counts and Sam Daley-Harris, Director of the Microcredit Summit Campaign and founder of RESULTS, a anti-poverty lobbying organization – and spent a morning speaking to the staff of those organizations at Grameen Foundation’s DC headquarters.
Focusing on the Social Business
In all of his visits, Prof. Yunus emphasized the need to develop and popularize the social business, which he wrote about in his book Creating a World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism. Simply put, social businesses are for-profit entities created primarily to serve a social goal. Such businesses strive to generate modest profits that are used to fund and expand operations, rather than to pay dividends to investors.
Since his departure from Grameen Bank, Prof. Yunus has continued to advocate for its independence from government control and to defend the interests of the Bank’s 8.3 million borrower-owners (97% of whom are poor women). Bank employees have continued to keep operations running smoothly while the Bangladesh government has seemingly turned its attention away from the Bank to unrest in the country caused by, among other things, moves to amend the constitution to remove the non-party caretaker system that oversees the country during general elections.
But many people fear that the government’s apparent lack of interest in taking control of the Bank may prove to be temporary, and that it may move again soon to amend the Bank’s bylaws and change the composition of its Board. With this in mind, Prof. Yunus urged the group assembled at the Grameen Foundation offices to remain vigilant and work with others around the world to ensure that the rights of the 8.3 million owners of the Bank are protected. “We have to stand behind them,” he said. (You can help by signing this petition asking the Bangladeshi government to keep Grameen Bank independent.)
He then reviewed the progress made by Bangladesh over the past 30 years, explaining that it was because of the power of ordinary people working together in civil society that the quality of life had improved for so many. Social business, he said, provides another way for people to work together to achieve social aims, leveraging the power of capitalism and the free market. “Business can be used to solve problems, not just to make money,” he explained. “Money is not the way to happiness. We make ourselves happy by making other people happy.”
Prof. Yunus talks to staff at Grameen Foundation’s DC headquarters about the Asian Social Business Forum recently held in Japan, while Sam Daley-Harris and Alex Counts look on.
Prof. Yunus has been traveling the world explaining the social-business concept, meeting with enthusiastic responses in the developed world (he told the group about a recent and very successful visit to Japan, which is looking at social business as an approach in rebuilding after the tsunami of last March) and in the developing world (he has been invited to visit Haiti in October to show people there how the concept could help them improve civil society). In addition to describing a successful series of events that were held around the world on Social Business Day, June 28, he said is looking forward even more to a series of meetings in November, including the Social Business Summit in Vienna on Nov. 10-12, and the Global Microcredit Summit in Spain on Nov. 14-17.
It’s Up to Us
In taking questions from the staff at Grameen Foundation offices, Prof. Yunus emphasized the power of the individual, as well as our responsibility to empower them – all for the overall good of society. “Peace can be threatened by poverty,” he explained. Microfinance and social businesses create opportunities that “keep people from being dependent … and helps them channel their energies into positive avenues, away from violence.” Creating such opportunity, he said, also helps to address inequalities on a larger scale – between groups of people and even nations – reducing tensions and resentment.
It’s up to all of us, he concluded, to change how we view, and interact with, the world. In capitalist societies, people grow up “wearing ‘profit-maximizing glasses,’ but if you take off those glasses and put on the social-business glasses, everything looks differently! New possibilities open to you.” He gave the example of Danone, which is involved in a social business in Bangladesh that makes inexpensive, nutritious yogurt available for poor women to sell to other poor people. When Danone was starting this enterprise, and asked its shareholders if they would like to invest part of their dividends in a new business that would help people but not give them additional financial return on their investment, 98% signed up, resulting in millions of euros in investment. “Give people a choice to help others,” Prof. Yunus concluded with a smile, “and they will come through.”