No business as usual: Professor Muhammad Yunus explains his unconventional wisdom.

November 08, 2010.  

“Business is not about profit. Business is about solving problems” says the Bangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunus at the beginning of his talk at ZEF on November 6, 2010. And this idea follows us throughout the discussion where many questions are posed and problems brought up. But the Nobel Prize Peace winner of 2006 doesn’t think in terms of problems. He is a problem solver. And for him, business is just a means to solve problems.


So after talking about the success story of the Grameen bank, which he founded in 1983, and its concept of micro-credits for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 as well as his many successful subsequent social business activities (joint ventures with the French company Danone for producing nutrient-rich yoghurts for the poor, with Adidas for shoes for the poor, with a phone company for distributing cheap mobile phones among the poor, etc. ) Prof. Yunus faces questions from students from all over the world, mostly related to their own research issues. He has an answer for all of them, whether it is on land right issues in Colombia or Ghana, solar energy in Bangladesh, extreme poverty in Asia, or public health care schemes in Pakistan. His answers always go into the same direction: enabling people to help themselves.


“We cannot accept poverty. It is a denial of choices. We have to enable people to make choices, to make something better out of their lives”, says Prof. Yunus, who consequently goes for decentralized, simple and cheap solutions for apparently complicated problems. Health care? No expensive hospitals where poor rural people will never go and get treatment. “We need simple and mobile devices on the spot”, explains Prof. Yunus. “We have to go to the people, to the villages and help people there”. The way he started and still organizes his micro-credits is a prototype solution for a lot of development issues, thus the message he conveys.


At least something of conventional economic thinking remains alive this afternoon: “Of course, we have to cover costs. We do business”, says Yunus. Is it a matter of magic, the way he made unconventional ideas work and even let them be awarded and recognized by - among others - the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2006, asks him an Indian colleague. No, replies Prof. Yunus. It is a matter of never giving up. Some day there will be the right time and the right circumstances to make things work - this he knows from personal experience.


The students Prof. Yunus leaves behind this afternoon are impressed, inspired and motivated - to contribute to solving the developing world’s problems in their own way.



Alma van der Veen