BY JIP SAMHOUD
It was a regular Monday evening when I had the opportunity to listen to a man whose higher goal it is to ‘create a world without poverty and unemployment’. A man who is a Nobel Peace Prize winner. A man who has created more than 60 companies…all of these aimed at creating solutions for societal problems. A great inspiration: Muhammad Yunus.
For more than 40 years Mr Yunus has been known as founder of the Grameen Bank – a bank that applies itself to giving the worlds poorest a chance to lend money. By developing the concept of micro-finance he made it possible for millions of poor people to step out of the lowest level of poverty and start a small business.
Furthermore I realised that Yunus is also the inventor of a concept that is becoming very popular in society: social business. A social business ‘does good’ for society, while perhaps making a profit. A large part of this potential profit is then invested back into the business, which solves the specific social problem even faster.
Starting social businesses is something that Yunus teaches at different business schools and he says that MBA and finance students should realise that they have a choice in how to start their career. Businesses should not solely be run to maximise profit for shareholders. “It is the choice between a social business and a purely money making business”, he says. “We should start creating more social dreams and social fiction. We desperately need more of this to make real dreams come true.”
Harvard Business School, represented by Michael Porter, scientifically researched social businesses which resulted in the ‘shared value theory’. The theory states that businesses are getting a stronger responsibility for society and that it is becoming generally accepted that you can ‘do good’ (for society) and ‘do well’ (make a profit) at the same time.
Social businesses are seen more and more, as shown by Mr Yunus, as examples of working together with a range of companies including Danone and Adidas to make totally new business lines concentrating on solving problems for third world countries. “I helped Adidas create a new audacious goal: ‘Create a world where everybody can wear shoes’. At first they were scared but then they sent their best people to work on a business concept that makes it possible for people in Bangladesh to buy shoes for about 3 pounds”, Yunus says.
In his micro-finance plan he sees that especially women are successful. Historically, this target group was almost ignored by banks and financial institutions. One of the things he demands of his lenders is that they have to send their children to school. “In this way we create a long-term impact on society. We eradicate illiteracy in third world countries. These children become more educated than their parents so they can create even better ventures. I always tell these children: ‘Don’t take jobs, create jobs!’. I believe that there is nothing larger than the capacity of people.”
On the question why Yunus was one of the first people to give these kinds of micro-finances he responds that he was just doing what he felt was right. He said he was just in the right position at the right time but that everyone would have done the same. It strikes me that another Nobel Peace Prize winner, Desmond Tutu, whom I interviewed a year before, said more or less the same about his role in ending Apartheid: “I just felt that it was the right thing to do, everybody would have done it”.
You can immediately feel the kind of special natural wisdom both these Nobel Peace Prize winners have: a shared expression of faith in humanity, combined with modesty and wisdom. They make you believe that everybody can and should take responsibility for society.