Muhammad Yunus Inspires Young People to Change their World

Muhammad Yunus Inspires Young People to Change their World

Education and technology make youth well poised to create social businesses, says Nobel Peace Prize winner

ATLANTA – Muhammad Yunus never set out to create a bank that would lift millions out of poverty and give rise to a global microcredit movement. He simply looked to solve a small problem in his community — and it’s this advice he gave Georgia university students attending a one-day Social Business and Microcredit forum.

The 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner delivered the keynote speech at the Oct. 17 event that challenged the students to design business plans addressing a community need.

Muhammad Yunus Photo credit: BOR Media and Publications

Yunus recalls discovering his own community’s need in 1974, when the great famine hit Bangladesh leaving millions hungry and facing dire poverty.

As an economics professor, Yunus felt shame teaching elegant theory in the classroom while people were dying on the streets. Asking himself what he could do, he decided to leave the university each day and travel to Jobra to “be with the people.”

It was in speaking with villagers that he learned about loan sharks, money lenders who charge exorbitant interest rates, which were keeping the borrowers in constant debt. Tallying the number of borrowers and the money owed, Yunus found that 42 borrowers owed a total of $27.

It wasn’t a difficult problem to solve, recalls Yunus, who having $27 simply gave this to the indebted people to repay their loans.

But it was the reaction and happiness this small act caused that impacted Yunus, completely changing the direction of his life course.

“I couldn’t believe people had to suffer so much for so little,” he says. “And then it came to my mind. If you can make so many people happy with such a small amount of money why shouldn’t you do more of it?”

So began the Grameen Bank, a financial institution created to lend money to poor people who lacked collateral and other conditions traditional banks required, while charging the smallest amount of interest possible and ensure its financial sustainability.

Yunus says he didn’t have business experience or banking knowledge when founding Grameen. Instead, he learned how to run a bank by watching what the traditional banks did, and doing just the opposite.

More than 1,200 students, educators and community members attended the one-day Social Business and Microcredit Forum Oct. 17.  

Since 1976, the bank has lifted millions of people out of poverty, and has a 97 per cent repayment rate.

Today’s young, facing social and environmental break down in their communities, have the potential do the same thing, find a small problem and look to solve it using a creative, revenue-sustaining business model, says Yunus.

“Take five people off of welfare, that’s a challenge for social business,” he recommends. “Because if we know how to get five people off welfare, we know how to get five million.”

With access to education and increasing advances in technology, Yunus says today’s young are especially well poised to create social businesses.

“I tell the young generation, look, this is your age, this is your time. You are the most powerful generation in the entire history of mankind,” says Yunus.

“Each one of you has the capacity to change your local world.”

Following Yunus’ presentation, 37 student teams from 36 universities and colleges presented their social business plans as part of the state-wide competition. Initiatives ranged from offering affordable health-care to migrant workers, improving literacy among adults and curbing domestic violence.

Related story:
Business Students Challenged to Create Social Business

Yunus Encourages Selfless Economics

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