Pay­ing at­ten­tion to prob­lems

A No­bel lau­re­ate says so­cial en­ter­prises work with our ca­pac­i­ties as hu­man be­ings.

New Zealand Listener - - SOCIAL ENTERPRISE -

It was less than the cost of a cup of cof­fee but it was enough for a young Bangladeshi woman to buy bam­boo to make some stools, avoid loan sharks amd start a small busi­ness that would pull her out of poverty.

In 1983, Muham­mad Yunus, a Bangladeshi econ­o­mist, No­bel Peace Prize win­ner and founder of mi­cro­fi­nance or­gan­i­sa­tion the Grameen Bank, agreed to lend money to a group of women with no col­lat­eral or cred­it­wor­thi­ness.

“Ev­ery­one said, if you give poor peo­ple money, the first thing they will do is eat,” he says, on the phone from Paris. “And if they eat, they will not be able to pay you back. I said, ‘Peo­ple are smart, they see pay­ing back as a way to kick the door open for fu­ture money. If they use the money prop­erly, then they will have the in­come to eat.’”

To­day, the Grameen Bank lends morre than US$2.5 bil­lion a year to poor women, en­joy­ing a re­pay­ment rate of just un­der 99% and chal­leng­ing ortho­dox eco­nomics. As he writes in his new book A World of Three Ze­ros, “Many of us were raised to be­lieve in the slo­gan ‘Eco­nomic growth is a ris­ing tide that lifts all boats’. The say­ing ig­nores the plight of the mil­lions who are cling­ing to leaky rafts – or who have no boats at all.”

For Yunus, so­cial busi­ness is that boat, pro­vid­ing the means for the poor, the un­em­ployed and the dis­em­pow­ered to de­velop self-sus­tain­ing busi­nesses that can help at­tain the three ze­ros of his book’s ti­tle: zero poverty, zero un­em­ploy­ment and zero net car­bon emis­sions.

“If we can turn un­em­ploy­ment into en­trepreneur­ship, the amount of hu­man cre­ativ­ity, tal­ent and pro­duc­tiv­ity we will un­leash is al­most be­yond mea­sur­ing,” he writes. “Even more im­por­tant, we can save hun­dreds of mil­lions of peo­ple from a state of de­pen­dency and the un­hap­pi­ness hu­man be­ings suf­fer when they have been deemed un­nec­es­sary and use­less.” The bank has set up a pro­gramme to pro­vide seed money and men­tor­ing to help would-be en­trepreneurs turn their dreams into fi­nan­cially sus­tain­able re­al­i­ties. Once suc­cess­ful, they sell the in­vest­ment shares back and the money is used to help an­other so­cial busi­ness. Uni­ver­si­ties – in­clud­ing, this year, Lin­coln Univer­sity – are also sup­port­ing the so­cial en­ter­prise cause in es­tab­lish­ing Yunus So­cial Busi­ness Cen­tres to teach cour­ses, do re­search and act as clear­ing houses for so­cial busi­ness ideas.

Gov­ern­ments, too, have a role, fos­ter­ing lead­er­ship through the cre­ation of so­cial busi­ness funds that pro­vide op­por­tu­ni­ties for un­em­ployed peo­ple to use their cre­ative ideas and new tech­nolo­gies to put their tal­ents to use.

To get more peo­ple on board,

Yunus urges the young to look at the prob­lems in their coun­try, city and neigh­bour­hood. “Choose one you want to do some­thing about and come up with a busi­ness idea to solve it in a so­cial busi­ness way. The prob­lems you see around you are not in­sur­mount­able; it is sim­ply we haven’t paid at­ten­tion to them. The mo­ment we pay at­ten­tion, we start the process of elim­i­nat­ing that prob­lem. That is the ca­pac­ity of the hu­man be­ing.”


Muham­mad Yunus

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