The man behind a quiet revolution

Published Date: September 4, 2016
Published by: Thailand



Exclusive Interview
The Nation September 4, 2016 1:00 am

Nation Multimedia Group editorial board adviser Suthichai Yoon talks with 2006 Nobel laureate and microcredit pioneer Muhammad Yunus, the architect of a movement sweeping through Fortune 500 companies, and a ‘Three Zeros’ action plan to preserve the world for future generations

Recognised globally for pioneering the concepts of microcredit and microfinance, Bangladesh national Muhammad Yunus proved that even the poorest of the poor can work to bring about their own development. Founder of Bangladesh's Grameen (Village) Bank, which has been providing access to credit for the poor for more than 30 years, he has today turned his attention to what he calls "social business". This aims to overcome poverty through non-loss, non-dividend companies dedicated entirely to achieving a social goal. Under this model investors get their investment money back over time, but never receive dividends beyond the initial amount. "Social business," he told Forbes magazine last year, is a complement to traditional profit-maximising business.

You came from Rio, what were you doing at the Olympics?

I was a torchbearer and I was also invited to address the International Olympic Committee meeting on why [sport] should have social dimensions. No matter whether it's a global, regional, national or local event, if a national Olympic committee gets the idea to do something special with the social dimensions, a huge number [of people] will get involved.

What are the social aspects of sport?

Several things. For example, there are four cities in the running to host the Olympics in 2024, Paris, Budapest, Rome and Los Angeles, selected on the basis of an eligibility checklist. If you put one more condition in that list - the number of social businesses you have in your city - then everyone becomes conscious of it. So candidates have to start social business, otherwise they might not qualify. You don't need to spend any money, but people become aware about social businesses.

A selected host like Rio must have a legacy programme, [detailing] what you will leave behind [after the Olympics]. The poor, slum children who don't have education, healthcare - these are all legacy [issues]. You have to build business fund to this city, before and after. It's not just one shot and then forget.

Bring in educational programmes for students to learn about it. Young people love this idea. They want to get involved [because they look up to] national heroes - the gold-medal winners.

What young people do when they get into a university is they want to mobilise. [In sporting heroes] you have the mobilising force, you have the power to convince.

Private companies hire these celebrities to sell their products. We are already using [this power, but] for commercial purposes.

But is social business sustainable?

Yes, endlessly so. That's why you have to transform one into the other. You don't have to spend any extra. When I presented this [idea] in Rio, everybody loved it. They kept asking question after question. And after this, I was invited by the other candidate city, Paris. They want to pick up the [social businesses] idea quickly.

So, when any country seeks to host the Olympics in the future it will have to meet this standard?

Absolutely. Without meeting this standard, they cannot compete. That means you have to be better than the others. This is important as sports are about competitions. So you compete to do good for the young people.

Muhammad Yunus sees 'lots of possibilities' in Uniqlo venture

June 10, 2016

Muhammad Yunus, the founder of Grameen Bank and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, spoke with The Nikkei about his experience with Uniqlo and his views on social business.

Q: Why did you decide to work with Uniqlo?

A: We did not particularly choose Uniqlo. It was a chance meeting with Tadashi Yanai [the chairman and CEO of Uniqlo] that got things going. I was invited to one of his programs, and I said that we should collaborate on a social business in Bangladesh. Then he agreed. It happened just by chance, and I had no idea about Uniqlo.

I knew little about Mr. Yanai when I first met him, except that he was one of the biggest tycoons in Japan. He is a very nice person, very friendly and down to earth, with a lot of interest in helping poor people and explaining how the project could be done. I said to him, "Let's give it a try. I don't know how this will shape up, but there are lots of possibilities."
He sent some people to Bangladesh to talk to me and design a business. After all of this discussion, we came up with an idea.

Q: What is the role of Grameen Bank in the joint venture with Uniqlo?

A: Basically, our role is to clarify the concept so that the company knows exactly what it means to be a social business. It is one thing to read a book about social business, but when you design something, you have to be very clear about the concept.

A company cannot do everything. It needs direction to reach its objective. We keep the company focused on the objective and help it meet its goal. We provide support in terms of our local knowledge, for example, how to lower costs, how to do marketing, and what should and should not be included. These are not orders. We give advice, and they can decide what to accept and what to hold onto for another day.

You cannot achieve the objective from day one. It is a step-by-step journey.

The idea is, if you finally make it happen the way we imagined, other government sectors and other companies, big and small, will become interested. Everybody wants to do a social business, but they do not know how. So, it is the development of a prototype, and what we are doing with Uniqlo is a good example. Once people say, "Ah, this is what you meant. We can do that, too," it helps them on their way.

Q: How do you see the progress of your social business with Uniqlo?

A: All businesses have their ups and downs. We had problems at different stages.
In the early stages of our work with Danone [which also formed a joint venture with Grameen Bank], we had problems, too.

With what we are doing, we want to make products very inexpensive so poor people can afford them. We have to be sustainable, and at the same time, reach the poor. The hard thing to do is balance the cost and the price. It is a very difficult job.

We have similar problems in every social business we do, but nobody gave up. They simply kept trying. Giving up is not an option for us. Some solved the problem by subsidizing costs, by selling goods to the rich and using that money to subsidize the poor. That is one solution, but there are many others.

Yunus as nonviolent revolutionary activist

Source:, Published Date: 20.03.2016, Author: Leopoldo Salmaso

Yunus at Abu Dhabi Summit (Image by Leopoldo Salmaso)

20.03.2016 - Leopoldo Salmaso
Worldwide, Microcredit is associated with the name of charismatic Muhammad Yunus, 2006 Nobel Peace laureate together with Bangladesh’s Grameen Bank: “for their efforts to create economic and social development from below… Lasting peace cannot be achieved if large populations cannot find the way to escape the grip of poverty. Microcredit is one such way. The development from below also promotes democracy and human rights”.

The Grameen Bank has achieved astonishing figures in the first twelve years of its activity: nearly 3,000 delivery points with 27,000 employees across Bangladesh; loans averaging 200 US$ have benefitted 7.5 million customers in 80,000 villages, with a repayment rate close to 98%. The Grameen( meaning village in Bengali) model is replicated worldwide by public and private institutions.

Professor Yunus participated in most of the working sessions of this summit (18th Microcredit Summit, Abu Dhabi, U.A.E., March 14-17, 2016), oftentimes accepting being besieged by the participants even during intervals and afterwards. One asking for advice, someone wanting him to know about his or her organization, someone just to take a picture by his side…

Leopoldo Salmaso: Professor Yunus, now it all seems relatively easy, this Microcredit scheme, but how difficult was it to start off from scratch, especially in a poor country like Bangladesh?

Yunus: I keep saying that that was my luck, and I really believe it. If there are no obstacles, there is no stimulation to overcome them. I also say to young people today; look for challenges! Today’s young people have an incredible tool, telematic technology [branch of information technology which deals with the long-distance transmission of computerized information]. They can feel content in the leisure pursuits that it offers… or they can use it to explore a bigger world until recently unimaginable, especially in the field of microcredit. Even the virtual scenarios, with today’s technology, are a great opportunity. Because they allow you to imagine something that does not exist; and if there was no imagination like that there would be no creation of new things. Therefore I repeat to young people; look for challenges, and dream about how to overcome them!

Leopoldo Salmaso: Professor, you have repeated on several occasions that in the universe of Microcredit there is room for either pure ‘welfarist’ activities and for-profit enterprises. But the coexistence of actors with so different motivations, does it not create conflict, or at least confusion?

Yunus: The conflict is part of life, and I reiterate that the challenges are opportunities more than obstacles. The only thing that truly one owes to himself and to others is clarity. Want to make Microcredit for pure social inclusion? Welcome! Want to do Microcredit for your personal profit? Welcome! Want to do half and half, or a mix in any proportion? Welcome!

Leopoldo Salmaso: And what is your personal choice? Don’t you feel uncomfortable to be here today in this luxurious setting while thinking of the poor people who will return to besiege you tomorrow in a remote village?

Yunus: My choice was and remains to work from below. But today I am happy and grateful to be here, together with all these wonderful people who share my same goal and who declare clearly how they intend to pursue it.

Leopoldo Salmaso: You certainly deserved the Nobel Prize for Peace, but in the first instance your innovation belongs to economics: did they assign you to the wrong prize category?

Yunus: (lighting up in a knowing smile) Well, this question should be asked of them!

Leopoldo Salmaso: Well yes, but “they” – those who award the Nobel Prize for Economics – they are not the same ones who award the Nobel Prize for Peace.

Yunus: True, “they” are those of the Bank of Sweden …

Leopoldo Salmaso: The establishment of the Nobel Prize for Economics took place seventy years after Nobel. The committee dared assigning a number of “their” awards to non-orthodox economists, provided their criticism was restricted to purely theoretical grounds. So I ask: couldn’t they assign it to you, as you have put into place a practical economic revolution of historic proportions?

Yunus: (with that same smile on his face) An intriguing question… Also to be asked of them!

Leopoldo Salmaso: OK, let’s leave them alone and go back to you. As a banker you gave credit to the poor, and as a Muslim male you gave credit to the women, then you are a double revolutionary?

Yunus: I am one who likes challenges. The challenge I faced was actually a double and great one, but it was enough to pick it up and the way for its solution became obvious and workable.

Leopoldo Salmaso: You continue to be modest. The poor and the women are still the biggest victims of violence on earth. So you are a global nonviolent revolutionary.

Yunus: Thank you. But then, if nonviolence is the main road to peace, you too will have to admit that, perhaps, they did not award me the wrong Nobel!

Published Date: 20.03.2016
Author: Leopoldo Salmaso

Prof Yunus calls to redesign economy to redesign world – Exclusive Interview

Published on 07/03/2016

KUWAIT: In an exclusive interview with Kuwait Times prior to his arrival in Kuwait, Dr Muhammad Yunus discusses his views on the global economy and the growth of microfinance in the Middle East. Some excerpts:

KUWAIT TIMES: You will be speaking at the Kuwait Chamber of Commerce on redesigning economics to redesign the world. What do you mean by this?

Professor Yunus: One of the issues I keep raising is that the problems we have created around the world for human beings are not accidental. This is by design. Not that we wanted to make this happen, but somehow these kinds of negative results came out of it – there are many positive results but there are negative results also built into the system. If you want to avoid and remove the flaws or the negative results of the current economic system, the point I have been promoting is that we have to look back to the thinking process, the conceptual framework, the entire economic thinking and entire economic system to find out the causes of the problems and remove the flaws.

For the present design or current economic system, you get the same old results – you create poverty, unemployment, health hazards and danger for the world, carbonization of the economy, and wealth concentration in a few hands. All these things are built into the current economic system. You can rethink it piece by piece but this does not solve the problem because it will come back soon unless you change the system which created it.

So, we need a redesigning process and once you redesign the process, the problems created in the past can be avoided or eliminated, and we can have a much better world than before. It is almost like building a road that leads you to a destination which is a good one, but on the way we have created problems by using this road, and if you keep on using the same road, you will just perpetuate the same problems that we have. In order to avoid these problems, we have to build a new road. We have to redesign the road in a way that those problems do not occur again and we can achieve the goals we wanted to achieve. The destination we have defined can be reached without creating a problem. This is what I have been saying – to redesign the economy to redesign the world – and this is what we will be talking today at the chamber of commerce.

KUWAIT TIMES: Microfinance has created much debate today on whether it works. How would you describe the state of this field?

Professor Yunus: You have to admit that access to capital or credit is very important. If you look at the world today, I would say probably two-thirds of the world’s population does not have access to financial services. That is the first thing that we should take care of. Money begets money. If you do not have it, you wait around to be hired by somebody and are at the mercy of others. If you have money in your hand, you desperately try to make the best use of it and move ahead. And this generates income for yourself.

I strongly believe that all human beings are very creative – full of potential, full of energy. Money allows them to express this. And if you are successful, you can make more money. You can expand your capacity, reach the next level of capacity, and so on.

If you remember long before the crisis of 2008, when financial institutions were crumbling all over the world, many of us had been saying that we need to redesign the financial system which only serves the top one-third of the world – two-thirds are left out. Microcredit has shown how you can reach out to people that conventional banking cannot. It has demonstrated that it’s a doable proposition.

When we designed microcredit, the purpose was to help people get out of poverty, but some people moved away from that motivation. Grameen is still the same. It reaches out to the poorest – the women – and has demonstrated that despite disasters, it can work.

KUWAIT TIMES: Microfinance is struggling to find its feet in the Middle East. Various reports say that institutional structures, poor regulations and a general backwardness of the financial system are hampering microfinance’s growth in the MENA region. Where do you see the role of respective countries to make microfinance a success?

Professor Yunus: We will be discussing these issues in the upcoming Microcredit Summit in Dubai in two weeks with MENA country representatives. Slowly, microcredit is taking root. Yes, microfinance has blossomed in recent years across parts of Asia and South America, but its start in the Middle East and North Africa hasn’t been as auspicious.

It is good that microfinance institutions have existed in the Middle East since the 1990s and they quickly made strides in countries like Egypt and Morocco, where large, relatively poor populations and pent-up demand for financing fed into its growth. But by the late 2000s, things stagnated. It seems to me that most of the financing firepower has become concentrated in the hands of a few players. We will discuss these issues at the summit, but I must attest that every country and region is different. I am hopeful that it takes good shape in the Middle East and MENA region.

Initially, there was confusion between microcredit and commercial banking, but now people understand these concepts. But there must be a policy in place to put microcredit to work, meaning that there must be a legal framework. There are banking laws in every country including countries in the Middle East, but banking laws are not suitable for microfinance to work properly. The existing banking law is framed for rich people. So you need to create a system or bank where poor people can have access to credit without collateral. There are nine such banks in the Middle East and I hope Kuwait will set up a bank for the poor in the future.

KUWAIT TIMES: You came up with an idea of social business, which you say is a kind of New Capitalism. Please describe this idea to us and explain how you reached it?

Professor Yunus: Social business is a cause-driven business where the investors/owners can gradually recoup the money invested, but cannot take any dividend beyond that point. The purpose of the investment is purely to achieve one or more social objectives through the operation of the company, and no personal gain is desired by the investors. The company must cover all costs and make a profit, and at the same time achieve the social objective, such as healthcare for the poor, housing for the poor, financial services for the poor, nutrition for malnourished children, providing safe drinking water, introducing renewable energy, etc in a businesslike way.

I have been proposing and practicing a new kind of business which is based on selflessness, replacing the selfishness of human beings. This type of business runs parallel to the selfishness-driven business that rules the world. Conventional business is personal profit-seeking business. The new business, which I am proposing, is personal profit-forsaking business. It is a for-profit business, but not personal profits. I call it social business – a non-dividend company to solve human problems. The owner can take back his investment money, but nothing beyond that. After getting the investment money back, all profit is ploughed back into the business to make it better and bigger. It stands between charity and conventional business. It is designed with the objectives of charity and carried out with the methodology of business, but delinked from personal profit-taking.

Charity is a great concept to help people, and has been in use since time immemorial. But it is not sustainable. Charity money goes out, does a wonderful job, but does not come back. Social business money gets the job done and then it comes back. As a result, this money can be reused endlessly. It creates independent, self-sustaining enterprises, which have their own lives. These enterprises become self-fueled entities.

The capitalist system is justified on the assumption that making money is the sole source of happiness. The more money you make, the happier you are. Money is an incentive, no doubt, but it is not the only incentive for human beings. Making money is happiness; but I feel making the world happy is super-happiness. The capitalist system is about freedom to choose. But when it comes to looking for happiness, it gives no choice. By introducing social business to make the world happy, we give people another choice. Now they can choose.

Business schools today train young people to become business-warriors to capture market and money. They are not given any social mission. If we accept the concept of social business, business schools will be required to produce another category of graduates equipping them to become social problem-fighters to bring an end to social problems through social businesses. We would need to create social stock markets to attract investors who would like to invest in problem-solving enterprises, without having any intention of making personal profits.

The impact of the business on people or environment, rather than the amount of profit made in a given period, measures the success of social business. Sustainability of the company indicates that it is running as a business. The objective of the company is to achieve social goals.

Note: Dr Bhuiyan is a professor at Kuwait University
By Dr Serajul I Bhuiyan

Nobel Prize Winner Thinks No One Should Ever Retire

July 29, 2015 4:19 PM ET

Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus, who just turned 75, thinks of credit as a human right.
Ben de la Cruz/NPR

Muhammad Yunus just had a milestone birthday. On June 28, he turned 75. It's a big moment for a man who's had many big moments in his life — most notably the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for founding Grameen Bank, which loans small sums, aka "microcredit," to the poor, mainly women, so they can start their own businesses.

Yunus stopped by NPR last week — he was in Washington, D.C., for a conference — wearing the long, open-necked "kurta" shirt of his native Bangladesh. "[A tie] looks funny on me," he joked.

He spoke with us about how to spend senior years (spoiler alert: he's anti-retirement) and why he thinks small loans can make a huge difference in the lives of the poor.

You're at an age when many people are retired. But you're still a busy man. Even though you no longer run the Grameen Bank, you're chairman of the Yunus Centre, which promotes businesses that aim to solve the world's problems, and you're speaking on panels.

The word 'retirement' is a very harmful word because it tells you that you have no more use left in you. You retire a ship, you have no use for it, you just put it in mothballs.

A human being is not something you can mothball.

Are you enjoying your older years?

For the first [stage of your life, you are] busy growing up, getting married, raising children, working, always trying to fill responsibilities, always under pressure. Now in the second stage, for the first time, I am free. I do whatever I want to do. I want to make my dreams and wishes true. And I do whatever I enjoy.

What about discounts for senior citizens. Are you pro or con?

I am as good as anyone else. Why should I have a discount? You are treating me differently.

You won the Nobel Prize for the many small loans that your bank gives to poor people. That was a revolutionary idea.

The banking system is designed for rich people. So you don't have any room for the poor people to get in there. The welfare system throws them a few crumbs, but that's it.

Credit is a human right. You have the right to food, shelter, to work. You can create your own work with the money you get.

I can only imagine how intimidating it would be for a poor person to walk into a big bank and ask for a loan.

Going into a bank should be just like when you shop. You don't need courage to buy groceries.

And someone can borrow money from the bank you founded, Grameen Bank, without any collateral?

In microcredit, we are not asking for any collateral. Anybody's entitled. We're not asking what you've got. We're asking what you need.

What would a woman in Bangladesh ask for?

She'll say, I'll think, about $30. She cannot even imagine $100.

And most loans are ... ?

Something like $100 or $150.

The idea is the money will go to start a business.

You have to have a business idea. For example, in Bangladesh, a lot of women propose agriculture-related business: growing something, selling something, producing something.

The bank also has a U.S. offshoot — Grameen America. Are you surprised by the kinds of businesses American women are starting up?

In Bangladesh, our women don't do hairdressing for money; they do the hair for each other. But in the United States, this is a business, so they set up in a shop to do the hairdressing. That surprised me. Dog walking is not a business in Bangladesh. Here [in the U.S.] it's a business. In Bangladesh, you laugh [at the thought] that you can make money by dog walking.

Your bank has accomplished a lot, with 8.4 million loan customers. Yet you and the bank have come in for criticism: The bank doesn't follow government rules and regulations; the bank receives foreign funding.

Do I have this envelope with me so I don't have to answer all these questions? [Yunus hands me a 31-page pamphlet titled "Questions by critics on Grameen Bank and the facts." The answers in the pamphlet can be found on his website.]

Source: tellyseries