Yunus Encourages Selfless Economics

Yunus Encourages Selfless Economics

Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus shares how social business can transform capitalism

ATLANTA – Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus has helped establish more than 50 companies in his lifetime, yet he doesn’t own any of them.

The former economics professor, who is known as the father of microcredit, creates businesses out of a desire to help others. It’s this motivation, he says, that if recognized and encouraged in economic theory, can transform capitalism.

In a one-on-one interview with Axiom News, Yunus outlined how our current economic theory has gone astray by only accounting for one dimension of human behaviour: self interest. This has created a system that champions profit maximization and tramples over many other human desires, like making others happy.

“Economists took the selfish part of human beings and built a whole theory around it,” explains Yunus. “I say, that’s totally wrong. Human beings are not one dimensional. We are not money-making machines, we are not robots. Man is a very diversified person.”

By expanding economic theory to account for at least two dimensions of human behaviour: selfishness and selflessness, Yunus says we can create a more complete capitalism.

“In people, there is selfishness, there is also selflessness. It’s a combination,” says Yunus. “If you take two dimensions the whole theory becomes much more balanced.”

And how do we encourage selflessness?

“Just put into the theory that there are two kinds of businesses, business to make money, business to solve problems. Once you do that, every young person, every student will ask what am I going to do? Am I going to do both, am I going to do one? It’s a choice now. Happiness theories are about choice. But in truth (economic theory) doesn’t give us a choice.”

Business that solves problems is defined by Yunus as social business. They operate in the same competitive environment as traditional companies with two exceptions: The investors agree not to take any money from the business beyond their original investment, and the company is focused entirely on achieving a social goal.

The model will not only bring selflessness back to the forefront of human behaviour where it belongs, it will also inspire new creativity, according to Yunus.

“By keeping economics limited to one part you can trace back (how) every single problem is rooted in making money, because I have no time to look at other things. Let government solve problems while business is busy making money,” says Yunus.

Yunus was in Atlanta to deliver a keynote presentation to university students competing in a social business forum. The author of Building Social Business is travelling around the world to meet with government, business, community members and young people, and share his vision for a new kind of capitalism.

“Some will start acting, and that’s my hope,” he says. “Everybody has selflessness. It’s not a special group. It’s all in us. Simply, we’ve never had a chance to express it.”

Related Story:
Muhammad Yunus Inspires Young People to Change their World


Writer Bio

Camille Jensen's picture
Camille Jensen

Camille Jensen is an employee share ownership consultant with ESOP Builders, Canada’s largest provider of employee share ownership plans (ESOPs) for small- and medium-sized enterprises.

Prior to joining ESOP Builders, Camille was a generative journalist and team member at Axiom News. She credits her time at Axiom as fundamental to her understanding that business is one of the best opportunities to make a difference in the world.

Camille is a B.C. Partner for Social Impact and volunteer with Okanagan Changemakers.

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