Nobel Peace Prize laureate speaks at CIGI

Photo by Will Huang
Photo by Will Huang

Muhammad Yunus really is a man who needs no introduction.

On June 2, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate spoke at the Centre for International Governance Innovation to a packed auditorium. CIGI president Rohinton Medhora introduced Yunus, saying “it’s often said that here we have someone who needs no introduction, but this is really the case.”

During his lecture, titled “We Are Not Job-Seekers, We Are Job-Givers: Turning Unemployment into Entrepreneurship,” Yunus discussed social business and entrepreneurship, as well as his work at the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, for which he was awarded the prize in 2006.

Yunus founded the Grameen bank over 30 years ago, when he decided to do something about the sheer number of beggars he encountered.

He would loan beggars small amounts of money and encourage them to sell items using the money when they went door to door begging.

“We told them ‘we will give you a loan. Some day you will pay us back, but we will not give you a fixed day by which to pay us back … and we will not charge you interest for the loan,’” he told the audience.

After they were able to pay them back, they would allow them to take out a slightly bigger loan the next time they needed it. Yunus explained the initial loans were typically between $12 and $20.

Photo by Will Huang
Photo by Will Huang

Unlike conventional banks, which typically look to the richest people, Grameen Bank looks for the poorest. Yunus believes that poverty is imposed on people by the system we live in, so it is the system that needs to change to help the people.

“Poverty is not created by people, it is created by the system,” he said.

According to Yunus, social business ¾ meaning it breaks even but is not meant to profit ¾ is what can change the system. By creating a business that has a purpose to solve a problem rather than making money, you can help people and reform the system that so often hurts them.

“Every time I see a problem, I start a business to solve the problem,” he said.

By doing this, you not only give yourself a job, but you create jobs for other people. You become a job-giver, not a job-seeker.

Yunus said there are more options for people, rather than just going straight from school to the workplace. He said every human being has creativity in them that can be applied through entrepreneurship.

He recalled a conversation with a young university graduate, whose mother struggled with poverty and borrowed money from Grameen Bank to provide for her family. The graduate said they had no business experience and was concerned about finding a job.

“There are lots of people growing up, they complain there are no jobs … I said ‘why don’t you start a business and have people work for you?’ ” he said.

According to Yunus, once you get involved with social business, you delink yourself from the idea of personal profit.

“Suddenly we see the world completely differently … young people like this idea that yes, I can use my creative power to create a world that I like.”

Yunus concluded that social business is the answer to unemployment, because anyone can be an entrepreneur and anyone can start a business.

“People tell me that unemployment is such a big problem … I don’t see any problem. You created that problem by calling it unemployment ¾ meaning that he needs employment,” he said. “The word ‘unemployment’ should be unemployed.”





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