Posts Tagged ‘Danone’

Prof. Yunus Visits Haiti – an Update from Alex Counts

October 16, 2011

Alex Counts is president, CEO and founder of Grameen Foundation, and author of several books, including Small Loans, Big Dreams: How Nobel Prize Winner Muhammad Yunus and Microfinance are Changing the World.

I am about to leave Haiti after four exciting days, and head to Dubai.  I am here in connection with Professor Muhammad Yunus’s first trip to Haiti.  Highlights abound – it is hard to know where to start.

I arrived a day early to do some interviews related to my book on Fonkoze, the country’s leading microfinance institution (MFI). Prof. Yunus’s first stop was a meeting with Haitian President Michel Martelly, who was inaugurated earlier this year.  By coincidence, the long process of forming a government (i.e., naming all the ministers who serve under him) had just been completed, so Prof. Yunus was able to meet all the new cabinet members just before they were to be introduced to the country.  President Martelly expressed sincere interest in helping create a positive environment for social business – Prof. Yunus’s main passion now – as well as microfinance.

From there, Prof. Yunus went to the first part of a two-day conference on social business.  His opening speech – delivered, as always, without notes – covered the theory of social business, as well as practical examples of how it has worked in Bangladesh, especially his joint ventures with the Danone Group and Veolia.  (He mentioned a study of the nutritional impact of Grameen-Danone, which is coming out in a month and shows that the impact of the program – in which poor women sell nutritious, inexpensive yogurt to other poor mothers and their children – was much greater than even he expected!)

Prof. Muhammad Yunus talks to a group of borrowers involved in Fonkoze's “Ti Kredi” program.

Prof. Muhammad Yunus talks to a group of borrowers involved in Fonkoze's “Ti Kredi” program.

He also talked about how he was afraid that the aid coming to Haiti after the earthquake would be wasted unless it was used to build up independence, rather than greater dependence on charity.  Finally, he told some stories about Grameen Bank and its history, and marveled at how microfinance has grown globally to almost every country, mentioning Fonkoze and its status as the leading MFI there (eliciting spontaneous applause) and celebrating Grameen Foundation’s important role in supporting Fonkoze.

The conference continued through midday Friday.  Anne Hastings, the director of Fonkoze Financial Services (Fonkoze’s for-profit arm), and I were on a panel with Prof. Yunus, where – alongside two Haitian economists – we responded to questions posed by the moderator and the audience.  In response to a question about my upcoming book on Fonkoze, I said that it was critical features for microfinance and social business to rigorously track social-impact outcomes.  In that context, I explained how the Progress out of Poverty Index® was based on Grameen Bank’s 10 Indicators of Poverty and had been incorporated into Fonkoze’s own social-impact monitoring tool.  In response to another question, I said that there were potentially powerful alliances between MFIs and their most successful clients on the one hand, and the social business movement in Haiti on the other.  Anne added some excellent points that built on those made by Prof. Yunus.

On Saturday, we took a field trip together.  The highlight was the first stop – visiting a Fonkoze “Ti Kredi” center of about 50 women who 10 days earlier had just gotten their first loan of $25.  (They are to make their first payments next Wednesday.)  After long-time Fonkoze employee Gautier Dieudonne introduced him, Prof. Yunus spoke to the group about Grameen Bank, Bangladesh, microfinance, mangos and much else, and asked the women a lot of questions. There was much laughter during some of the lighthearted exchanges, while serious topics were also explored, related to how microfinance can go off course at the village level and nationally – and what can be done about it.  He asked how much local moneylenders charge – the answer was 20% per month – and the women praised Fonkoze for offering a much lower rate.

After the center meeting we had a nice afternoon with representatives from Zanmi Lasante/Partners in Health, the organizations founded by Paul Farmer.

I think the most poignant moment came when Prof. Yunus asked whether the women thought they were going to be able to improve their lives with such small loans.  An older woman named Clenie Brisfor stood up and said, “It is not easy, but what else are we going to do?  We can make progress!  Even if we have only 1 gourd [about 5 cents], we can buy a packet of clean water and re-sell it for a small profit, and start the process of changing our lives.  So 1,000 gourdes [$25] is a lot!”

Fonkoze borrower Clenie Brisfor tells Prof. Yunus that, with access to small loans through Fonkoze, "We can make progress!"

Fonkoze borrower Clenie Brisfor tells Prof. Yunus that, with access to small loans through Fonkoze, "We can make progress!"

I wonder how many Americans understand what $25 – or even 5 cents – can do to change someone’s life, as well as their sense of what is possible? As we’ve seen again and again, access to financial services can provide the poor with an opportunity to empower themselves, live up to their potential and realize the human dignity that we all deserve.

Two Steps Backward for Innovation to End Poverty

May 5, 2011

A guest post from Sam Daley-Harris, Founder of the Microcredit Summit Campaign, which seeks to reach 175 million poorest families with micro-loans, and of RESULTS, which seeks to create the political will to end poverty.

The deed is done.  On May 5th, the appellate division of the Bangladesh Supreme Court agreed that the Bangladesh Bank, the nation’s central bank, was justified in firing Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Muhammad Yunus from his post as Managing Director of Grameen Bank, the institution he founded more than three decades ago.  Prof. Yunus’s lead lawyer, Dr. Kamal Hossain, one of Bangladesh’s most distinguished attorneys and a drafter of the nation’s constitution, was scarcely able to hide his disgust at the Appellate Division order, when he said, “I [apparently] have to take admission to university again to newly learn the constitutional laws of the 21st century.”

The dismissal is not the lone action of one government institution, but is part of a premeditated campaign that starts at the highest level, with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.  Their reason for sacking Prof. Yunus?  He’s “too old.”  Never mind that the 70-year-old Yunus maintains a rigorous schedule or that the Finance Minister, another key player in the sacking, is at 77 somehow not “too old” for that post.

The dismissal of Prof. Yunus from his post as Managing Director of Grameen Bank could portend ominous changes by the Bangladesh government.

The dismissal of Prof. Yunus from his post as Managing Director of Grameen Bank could portend ominous changes by the Bangladesh government.

Their excuse would be laughable if it were not for the calamitous impact it portends.  What makes the decision to remove Prof. Yunus so disgraceful is not that he would be out of a job – any university in the world would welcome him with open arms as a visiting professor.  No, the atrocity here is the fact that the independence and integrity of one of the world’s premier poverty-fighting institutions is now at grave risk.  Grameen Bank, an extraordinary institution with more than 8 million microcredit borrowers that took 35 years to build, could be destroyed in a matter of months by incompetent government action.

The government’s action cannot honestly be in response to accusations by a Danish documentary maker about an improper transfer of Norwegian aid funds more than a dozen years ago, because both the Norwegian government and Bangladesh’s own review committee have found that Grameen Bank did nothing wrong.  It cannot be due to the documentary maker’s charge of excessive interest rates, because Microfinance Transparency and the government’s own review committee found that Grameen Bank has the lowest interest rates in the country.  Instead, most observers see this as an inexcusable political vendetta by the Prime Minister against Prof. Yunus, stemming from his short-lived attempt to start a political party in 2007.

Consider these groundbreaking innovations that Prof. Yunus’ poverty-fighting laboratory has brought to the world, and what could be lost in the future from his unwarranted ouster:

  • In 1976 he made loans of less than US$1 each to 42 desperately poor Bangladeshis to start or build tiny businesses – and the microcredit revolution was born.  It has made its way all around the world.  While others have seen microfinance as a way to make big money for investors, Prof. Yunus has never once diverted from his original intent to empower the poor.
  • In 1997 Grameen Phone Ladies started bringing cell phone technology to remote villagers throughout Bangladesh – providing the dual benefit of creating jobs and increasing communications, which enhanced others’ work.
  • Grameen Shakti, an energy firm, has installed more than a half-million solar home systems and sold more than a quarter-million improved cooking stoves.
  • In a joint venture with Danone, the yogurt maker headquartered in France, Grameen Danone is bringing low-cost fortified yogurt to malnourished children throughout the country – and creating a business opportunity for the poor women who sell it.
  • College scholarships and loans have gone to 180,000 students. Most remarkably, in almost all of the cases, these are the children of illiterate parents who have had the help of Grameen Bank in breaking the bonds of inter-generational illiteracy.

A government that so rashly and ruthlessly ousts this innovative and transformational leader cannot likely be trusted to continue his revolutionary work.

But the deed is done.  Here is a sample of the visionary voice that Bangladesh has likely lost in this despicable government act.  Reflecting on the 1997 Microcredit Summit, Prof. Yunus wrote: “In teaching economics I learned about money, and now as head of a bank I lend money.  The success of our venture lies in how many crumpled bank bills our once starving members now have in their hands. But the microcredit movement, which is built around, and for, and with money, ironically, is at its heart, at its deepest root not about money at all.  It is about helping each person to achieve his or her fullest potential.  It is not about cash capital, it is about human capital.  Money is merely a tool that unlocks human dreams and helps even the poorest and most unfortunate people on this planet achieve dignity, respect, and meaning in their lives.”

Review + Reflection from a Social Business of a different sort (Pt. 2 of 2)

May 19, 2008

Jeff Delkin, co-founder, bambu

It’s our belief, that we have a responsibility to ‘give back’ to the planet and to the communities where we operate. It has always been central to who we are. We wanted to recognize and benefit the communities in which we work and live. And that place is China. While we may not be a social business as Yunus describes, we do provide support and volunteer services to the work of Grameen Foundation in China. We do donate over 1% of our total sales (not just profits) to non-profit organizations preserving and restoring the natural environment in China and around the world. We do donate to the local schools where the children of many our or craftspeople attend.

We are not a social business in the strictest sense of the word. We are a for profit company that strives to do good. And as such, I am not convinced that the social business model that Yunus describes is the best model.

Yunus argues that businesses with a social responsible strategy will have too often forego their good corporate citizenship for profit motives. And unfortunately, too often this does happen. But it happens to organizations which have not integrated their principles firmly into their business.

A simple spectrum of business models could look like this.

Social Business > Compassionate Capitalism > Profit Focused Capitalism

Our own business reflects more the ‘Compassionate Capitalism’ model. Yunus supports globalization and believes it brings more benefits than its alternative. He also recognizes the importance of marketing by conducting product testing, naming and identity development, and a tiered pricing strategy. Given that, businesses that practice compassionate capitalism can benefit many.


Review + Reflection from a Social Business of a different sort (Pt. 1 of 2)

May 12, 2008

Jeff Delkin, co-founder, bambu

I was inspired to write this post for a couple of reasons.

We first became aware of Grameen Bank while living in Asia. More recently we’re personally involved on a volunteer committee to help raise awareness for the work Grameen Foundation is doing in China.

Secondly as founders of a small business, bambu, we are interested in the concept of ‘social business’ that Dr Yunus’ introduces in his new book, Creating a World Without Poverty.
Central to our sense of purpose and value set at bambu, we concern ourselves with responsible stewardship of resources, giving back to the people and the communities in which we work in China and Vietnam, and preservation of the natural environment.

We strive to create an organization that acts with integrity. We describe ourselves as a values-driven company as opposed to a profit-driven company.

Dr. Yunus’ book presents some paradigm-breaking ideas that are a positive force for change, and made me reflect on our own business, and the role of business in general.

The notion of ‘social business’ is introduced in the first few pages. Yunus makes some important distinctions in defining what a social business is.

Importantly, he distinguishes a social business as one that directly makes products that poor people are willing to pay for, and one which directs all the profits back into the enterprise.


Help us create a world without poverty

January 9, 2008

When he asked for a meeting with Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus, Franck Riboud, CEO of Group Danone, a global corporate giant (whose American brand name is Dannon), didn’t realize that his concept of doing business was about to change forever. A few hours and a hand shake transformed the hard driving, profit-motivated executive, into an unwavering advocate of ‘social businesses’. Barely a year later, Riboud joined Professor Yunus in Bangladesh to launch Grameen Danone, with the mission of producing and selling specially-fortified yogurt to improve the health of poor Bangladeshi children.

In his new book, Creating a World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism, Professor Muhammad Yunus expands his vision with the pioneering idea of social businesses. These companies operate as businesses with a strictly social mission and reinvest their profits to further their mission rather than distributing dividends to shareholders.

To many, this sounds like the impossible dream. But, drawing on his own experiences launching the world’s first purposely designed social businesses, Yunus shows how it can be done. From his collaboration with Danone to building eye care hospitals that will save thousands of poor people from blindness, Creating a World Without Poverty offers a glimpse of his vision for a world completely transformed by thousands of social businesses.


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