In a just concluded two week (February 23 – March 7) tour of three countries, France, USA, and Cambodia, Nobel Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus launched new social businesses, and visited social businesses already in operation, participated in board meetings of social business funds, and met potential investors in social businesses.
In Paris, Professor Yunus attended the board meeting of Grameen Credit Agricole social business fund. The Board approved four projects for funding, two in social business, two in microfinance, in four countries. During the visit a plan was discussed for a French initiative to set up four French cities, namely, Lille, Cergy, Lyon and Marseilles, as social business cities. These cities will create social business funds, set up a social business institute in each city in one of their leading universities, and create social businesses. Initial focus of social businesses in these cities will be on youth unemployment and waste management. A forum will be held in Lille in October to launch these initiatives. City governments of these cities are taking the lead in this programme.
Professor Yunus was received by the agricultural minister of France Stephane Le Foll at the international agricultural fair, which is a huge annual event of the farmers of France. He had a meeting with Angel Gurria, Secretary General of OECD and former foreign minister of Mexico, at the head quarters of OECD. The meeting was attended by Martin Hirsch, head of French Public hospital system and former Minister and poverty advisor to the government of France. They discussed how social business idea and ICT can be introduced in the OECD countries to address the healthcare problems.
Professor Yunus addressed a dinner hosted by Credit Lyonnais (LCL, as it is popularly known, one of the largest banks in France) at its head quarter attended by the important clients of the bank who wanted to understand and participate in social business initiatives.
In California Professor Yunus visited two new branches of Grameen America in Los Angeles. The one year old branch in Boyle Heights has been operating for one year and already has over 500 all-women borrowers. The second branch in West Lake has just been opened one month ago, and has 25 borrowers. All the staff of the branches are women, except the branch managers who were sent from Bangladesh to set up these branches. Prof Yunus was accompanied on the visit by the new CEO and President of Grameen America Ms Andrea Jung, formerly CEO of Avon, also current board member of Apple, and Daimler AG automobile company and by Professor H I Latifee, Managing Director of Grameen Trust.
During Prof Yunus' visit to California, he delivered lecture at the prestigious Westmont College in Santa Barbara. The leadership of the college is interested in creating social business city, create a social fund to launch social businesses, and create social business centre at the college.
Professor Yunus was received by the President of California State University at Channel Islands at the Institute of Social of Business which was set up by the university and launched by Professor Yunus four years back, through an elaborate programme of reading of Professor Yunus's book on social business by all students of the university. At a meeting of the Institute attended by the President of the university, Deans, Director of the Institute, Mr Martin Loeffler, representatives of NGOs, and businesses, the Institute presented a book just-published by the Institute for the benefit of the students who are offered social business as a minor in the university. Institute also presented its future plan in implementing social business activities in the community including using social business to enable 18,000 families in Ventura County, where the university is located, who receive free food through food-lines of NGOs, to get out of the food-lines and be self-reliant. The university has created an attractive incubation room for the students belonging to the Social Business Club. The club conducts social business design competition regularly. Next subject for their social business will be to provide decent income for undocumented Mexican farm workers who are exploited by the local farmers, through creating social businesses.
In Cambodia Professor Yunus attended the board meeting of Danone Community’s Fund which finances social businesses in several countries, including Cambodia. He visited the "1001 Fontaines", a social business which is providing safe water to Cambodian villages through over one hundred rural water treatment plants operating within the framework of social business franchise model. Each plant is run by a village entrepreneur under the supervision and quality control of the "1001 Fontaine". The plants are located all around the country, and more plants are being set up every month to meet the need of clean and safe water in the rural areas. Professor Yunus was impressed by the highly entertaining and skilful performance of teen-aged performers of a circus company which was created as a social business for the street children in Angkor Wat, historical capital of Cambodia. All these social businesses were financed by Danone Community’s Fund, of which Professor Yunus is a co-chair, along with Franck Riboud, chairman of Danone Group.
In Phnom Penh, Professor Yunus addressed the students and the faculty of Royal University of Cambodia which became interested in introducing an academic programme on social business. Professor Yunus was given a reception by the Microfinance Association of Cambodia where he engaged in a detailed discussion on the future direction of microcredit in Cambodia. He was very impressed by the quality and the outreach of the microcredit organizations in Cambodia. Their journey began in 1992, after the country started moving again following Paris Accord, leaving behind genocide of Pol Pot regime when over 2 million people were slaughtered around the country and another 2 million died of hunger and diseases. More than half of the poor families have been reached by the microcredit programmes in Cambodia by less than 40 microcredit programmes in the country. Some of these programmes are financed by Grameen Credit Agricole Microfinance Foundation based in Paris.
Professor Yunus was taken to visit Chamroen microcredit program and meet the borrowers at their homes in the out-skirt of Phnom Penh.
Prof Yunus was given a guided tour of the Kings Palace by a Cambodian Prince, Prince Tesso, who gave a detailed history of the Kingdom of Cambodia. He also visited the historic temples of Angkor Wat during his visit.
Professor Yunus returned to Dhaka on March 7.