Posts Tagged ‘Grameen Danone’

Reporting from Hong Kong

June 14, 2012

Shannon Maynard is Director of Bankers without Borders®, Grameen Foundation’s skilled-volunteer initiative. Maynard has more than 15 years of experience in nonprofit management and volunteer mobilization. Before joining Grameen Foundation, she served as Executive Director of the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation, and managed strategic initiatives for the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency. This post is the first in a four-part series.

The summer after I joined Grameen Foundation to run Bankers without Borders (BwB), I had the pleasure to travel to Shanghai, China, where we had amassed a significant pool of advocates for our work – the “Shanghai Volunteers.” I met with these inaugural members of our BwB community (organized by uber-volunteer Susan Place Everhart) and joined Jennifer Meehan, our Regional CEO for Asia, in meetings with potential corporate partners for Grameen Foundation’s work in the region.  After spending time in Shanghai, I then traveled to Bangalore, India, where BwB was undertaking one of its first corporate collaborations and field-based projects in Asia, with Grameen Koota and a team of volunteers from Accenture, Dow Chemical and Citi.

It’s now three years later, and I am headed to Hong Kong – Grameen Foundation’s regional headquarters for Asia – to spend time with Sharada Ramanathan, the extraordinary woman behind BwB’s presence today in Asia. Working with Grameen Foundation’s regional staff, we’ll brainstorm how to continue to deeply integrate volunteers into the way Grameen Foundation does business – from helping us fundraise and addressing our own capacity gaps, to creating standard roles for volunteers in delivering our programs and services in Asia. We’ll also look at how we continue to share the skills and expertise of volunteers in our database – more than 20% of whom are based in Asia – with other social enterprises that have a market-based approach to improving the lives of the poor.

BwB Regional Program Officer for Asia, Sharada Ramanathan, and Director Shannon Maynard are spending a week meeting with volunteers and supporters in Hong Kong.

BwB Regional Program Officer for Asia, Sharada Ramanathan (left), and Director Shannon Maynard are spending a week meeting with volunteers and supporters in Hong Kong.

As I prepare for this trip, I think it’s worth reflecting on some of BwB’s successes, failures and insights from our three-year history in Asia.

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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.

Developing a Social Business Strategy

June 4, 2008

The following is a summary of a report to the Board of Directors of Grameen Foundation regarding social business viability by Khalid Shams, Former Deputy Managing Director, Grameen Bank.

Grameen’s Social Business Initiatives

Grameen Bank
has been experimenting with new social business ventures since the early ‘90s. It has effectively used the microfinance platform for launching several social enterprises. Some of these were ‘for-profit’, while others were ‘not-for-profit’ entities, but each had a distinct corporate mandate for social development. Grameen Bank itself would be an example of such a social business enterprise, which provided microfinance related services to the designated rural poor and the bank is also owned solely by the borrowers themselves. Some of the social enterprises were created in direct response to the demand of GB borrowers i.e. the Sixteen Decisions of the bank, as well as the rural poor, for essential services needed for development of health, education, nutrition, and alleviation of poverty.

Some of the enterprises were concerned with extension of new technologies that could directly raise the income and productivity of the poor trapped in such traditional sectors like agriculture, fisheries, rural industry. New ventures were also launched for development of information and communication based technologies.

More recently, Professor Yunus has taken the initiative of setting up “social businesses” that aim to provide nutrition and health services to a targeted client. In these new ventures, after the initial capital costs have been fully recouped, the investors agreed to take only nominal dividends, plowing back all profits for further expansion of the social business. Grameen-Danone Foods Ltd, and the newly formed Grameen Eye Hospitals are the latest examples of more rigorously designed social business models.

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Inventing another pathway to a world without poverty (Pt 2 of 2)

April 14, 2008

Gordon Starr, Starr ConsultingTransforming the world of global business enterprise

Danone and Grameen are, in fact, changing the game of business. They have created a profit-making enterprise where societal contribution is more important than maximizing profit (a “social business”), and opened the door for other new inventions that move us towards a world without poverty.

What could happen in the world of profit-making business if societal contribution became at least the equal of mazimizing profit in boardrooms throughout the world?

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Inventing another pathway to a world without poverty (Pt 1 of 2)

April 7, 2008

Gordon StarrWhat if the enormous power and potential of global business enterprise could become a force for social and environmental transformation just as it has been for the expansion of global commerce?

Grameen Danone – the world’s first “social business” as conceived and presented by Dr. Yunus in his new book – is a brilliant invention. What Grameen and Danone have done with great courage and insight is open the door to a new future – and to a new whole landscape of possibility for creating a world without poverty. And perhaps much more.

Given this first landmark step, what else might now be possible?

For instance, what could happen in the world of profit-making business if “global viability” became the equal of “maximizing profit” in the boardroom?

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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.