Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus speaks on the power of microfinance

YunusOn Wednesday afternoon, Dr. Muhammad Yunus, the recipient of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, delivered a speech at Gaston Hall, addressing the empowerment of women and alleviation of poverty through the use of microcredit and social business. Dr. Yunus is the innovator of a system of loan lending that provides small principal amounts in order to allow the impoverished to qualify for loans and grow small business.

“Poverty is not in the person,” Yunus said. “Poverty is an imposed phenomenon. If it is an imposed phenomenon, let us cut it off so that nobody has to suffer from it.”

Dr. Yunus, who holds a PhD in economics from Vanderbilt University, said that the new social business structure created by his Grameen Bank allowed his native country of Bangladesh to benefit in ways unseen. Earlier in Bangladesh, women accounted for 1 percent of loan holders throughout the nation due to the need for the husband’s approval. Now, under the leadership of Grameen Bank, 96 percent of the loans go to women.

“When the woman says ‘I don’t know what to do with money,’ always remember it is not her voice. It is the voice of history,” Yunus said. “Our job is to peel off the fears layering it, so there will be some day one of these women will think ‘Maybe I should try’.”

According the Dr. Yunus, the Grameen foundation seeks to empower the women of Bangladesh. One such empowerment comes through the form of improved healthcare. Dr. Yunus said how Grameen cooperated with General Electric to create a portable ultrasound system to be used in Bengali villages in order to check for risky pregnancies. Birth rates in Bangladesh have dropped from 3.3 percent to 1.4 percent where Dr. Yunus said most Muslim countries have higher birth rates. In addition Grameen health has produced healthcare plans that cost as low as $3 per year.

“Social Business: Business to solve problems. Businesses have to make money. That’s their number one goal,” Yunus said. “Making money is the goal. In social business that is not the goal. I call it a non-dividend company to solve problems.”

Dr. Yunus told the audience that microcredit is only the beginning to alleviating the poverty that afflicts Bangladesh and other parts of the world. His idea of a social business is defined as a business that does not have the primary goal of turning a profit. The primary goal of the business should be to solve problems.

Dr. Yunus said that he prefers this model to charities because charitable organizations must seek funding from external sources in order to solve problems, whereas the social business seeks to replenish its funds through business function, while also providing for the community and solving social problemsm such as the lack of access to healthcare and communication.

“All you need to change the world is an idea, not money. Power of the idea is the supreme idea,” Yunus said, “And you have the idea. You are the most powerful generation in human history because of the technology in your hand. The question I leave you with is what will you do with this power? You can create a completely different world. A world where not a single person in this planet will be a poor person.”

Photo: Xiaowei Liu/Georgetown Voice

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