Nobel Laureate Yunus Stresses Social Responsibility to Tackle Poverty
- 15 January 2014
Businesses around the world should focus on social responsibility to ensure sustainable development, according to Nobel Peace laureate Prof Muhammad Yunus.
The founder of Grameen Bank, a microfinance organization providing small loans to the impoverished in Bangladesh, was speaking at the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research in Abu Dhabi about ways in which social businesses could contribute to solving society’s most pressing problems. “We need to fix the system before we try to solve the problem,” Prof Yunus said. “I think of solution in terms of creating a business, so if I see a problem I create a business to solve the problem. I have now created more than 60 companies.” He said credit programs had become a global phenomenon.
“There are nearly 160 million people who receive microcredit from the microcredit program and it works beautifully,” Prof Yunus said. “There are now six branches of Grameen America in the US and the average loan is $1,500 (Dh5,509).” The idea of providing relatively small, but life-changing, loans began in Bangladesh, born out of desperate need. “Whatever I have done my whole life was done in an environment of desperation,” Prof Yunus said. “Things are so bad that you need to jump in or do something to see if it works, so I did many small, simple things because I decided I wanted to make myself useful. “If I can make myself useful to every human being for one day, then that day is well spent for me.”
He started by issuing loans, as little as between 50 cents to $3, to villagers in Bangladesh. “I can’t solve the problem of the whole world but I thought I can solve the problem of this village,” Prof Yunus said. “All I have to do is loan money myself with no charge. Everybody was so surprised because they didn’t expect anybody to do such a thing, but it became very popular and villagers started coming to me.” The idea spread locally, with 2,600 branches now in Bangladesh, and globally, from Germany to France and Japan. But more needs to be done to be able to achieve one of the Millennium Development Goals of ending poverty by 2030. “In Bangladesh, we managed to halve poverty by mid last year,” Prof Yunus said. “In 2030, in Bangladesh, there will be no poverty.”
The UAE can play a part, said George Itty, the chief executive of Nahtam, a social responsibility organisation in Abu Dhabi. “There is a big opportunity in that area in the UAE,” said Itty. “Organizations should go more for sustainable social-responsibility projects, and the UAE Government, as well as Emiratis, have the basic helping, hospitality and caring mentality. We just have to apply it to our daily lives and I see huge potential here.” Jamal Al Suwaidi, the centre’s director general, said the social dimension of businesses had become an important factor in sustainable development. “Profit is not the only criteria for the success of companies,” he said. “Most businesses should concentrate on the social aspect as part of their agenda.”
Profit should be an incentive, but not the only incentive, said Prof Yunus. “Accomplishments and achievements are also incentives,” he said. “The world has become money-centric, we have become worshippers of money and it’s become our God.” He said combining conventional and social businesses could help in redesigning the world. “We forgot we were human beings and that we were multi-dimensional,” he said. “We became single-dimensional. “But if you create a business where you don’t make money – you just make it self-sustained – then none of the problems that we see around us would be here. “Let’s make up our mind and create a world of our choice and a world with no poverty.”