Sunday, February 10, 2008

"If you think poverty should not exist, let's work on it."

from The Washington Post

Muhammad Yunus, Nobelist for Micro-Credit, Calls Capitalism to Account

Call him the "Banker to the Poor." That's what Muhammad Yunus titled his autobiography, about his launch of the micro-credit movement in the 1970s. For enabling millions of small entrepreneurs in poor countries around the world to feed their families and support their communities through small, collateral-free, low-interest loans, Yunus, a Bangladeshi economist, won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize. Now, he hopes to foster another movement with the publication of his second book, "Creating a World Without Poverty." Yunus wants us to reinterpret capitalism, to realize that profit maximization is not as important as social maximization; that "social business" can help lift people from poverty, if only the rich would reassess their motives for amassing wealth.

-- Lynne Duke

What types of people, especially here in the United States, do you think would be most receptive to your message?

Very simply, frustrated young business executives who are saying, "Why are we making all this money? We already have several million. I'm a young man or a young woman. . . . What do I do with my life for the rest of the time? I can't have a hundred houses or a hundred cars. Even if I have, I don't know what to do with them. So what is it that I need to do?" So there, I give an idea. . . . Social business: Do good for the society with the things that you believe are important. If you think poverty should not exist, let's work on it.

People talk about social entrepreneurs, so I suppose those are the kinds of people you are targeting?

They're included. They are more enterprising than others. But the one who looks like a very rigid businessman, very conservative business person, I don't exclude him either.

You don't exclude Warren Buffett?

No, no! I have a proposal for Warren Buffett right in my book.

What you're calling for is an upending of the capitalist system, yes?

Exactly. . . . Capitalism is a half-done work. It needs to be completed, because the idea about business, which means business to make money -- profit maximization -- it assumes that all human beings are moneymaking machines. That's not true. Moneymaking is interesting, exciting; people like it. But it's not the whole of human life. Human beings are much bigger than just being a moneymaking machine.

So in a way, you're challenging people.

I'm challenging people, absolutely. Step back and reflect. Where are we going? What happens when I have stacked up all the money in the world? . . . Not everybody is Bill Gates, but everybody has a place and opportunity to do something. . . . So I'm saying that young people should be thinking: What is it that I will do, besides my job?

Why hasn't the world eradicated poverty?

Number one, because our theoretical framework, our institutional framework is based on the assumption that poverty will always be with us. When you imagine a world where there will be some people who remain poor, there's no way you can get rid of poverty, because in your imagination they exist, so in reality they exist. You create what you imagine.

1 comment:

Jill Finlayson said...

Thanks for sharing this story on Muhammad Yunus. Social Edge has just launched a whole series on microfinance, starting with a new video interview with Muhammad Yunus telling how he started the Grameen Bank. []

A series of interviews with UNITUS members follows. Additionally, Social Edge has a discussion and several case studies on microfinance. I invite you to come and join in the conversation at

Jill Finlayson
Social Edge