Last Friday, YAO-Chicago chair Shannon Leutheuser and I had the chance to not only hear but actually to meet Dr. Muhammad Yunus at the Chicago Council of Global Affairs event, “Building Social Business.” Yunus is the founder and manager of Grameen Bank and the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner, and he has written a new book called Building Social Business: The New Kind of Capitalism that Serves Humanity’s Most Pressing Needs.
At the Chicago event, Dr. Yunus wore the traditional Bangladeshi clothing that has become his signature throughout his rise to fame. Like his clothing, Yunus was down to earth and perfectly simple in his adamant call to address global poverty. “Poverty is not created by poor people, it is created by the system. In the capitalist system there is only one kind of business, the profit-making business.” The problem Yunus sees with that system is that it centers primarily on human selfishness, a one-dimensional perspective. But humans are not one dimensional; love, compassion and selflessness are all part of the human experience. The business world, as Yunus sees it, has not allowed selflessness to play a role. Through his new book, Yunus calls for businesses to build their practices and future goals around selflessness, rather than selfishness.
I admire Dr. Yunus’ bold call for businesses to address the world through a different lens. During the question-and-answer session, one member of the audience asked Yunus what made him tick and where he found his inspiration. Yunus explained that as a professor in the 1970s, he taught economic theories and models, yet there were still hungry people outside the classroom. All the theories and models in the field weren’t changing people’s lives in a real way, and so he felt they were practically useless. When he started Grameen Bank in 1976, he thought, “If I can help one person every day I am a lucky person… I don’t want to be a useless human being.” Today, Grameen Bank serves 8.10 million microfinance borrowers worldwide, and Yunus’ work continues to inspire people all over the world.
“What astonished me,” says Shannon, “was the power Yunus brought to simple ideas about selflessness and a willingness to work for others. He made the concept of “social business,” a revolutionary idea, seem like a viable, and even obvious, alternative for one’s career and life’s work.”
It all starts with one individual willing to help one person per day. When you see the change that one person can enact, you too will become convinced, like Yunus, that there is more to life than profit margins and financial gain.
Opportunity’s Partnership Relationship Manager, Andrew Koehler, also attended Friday’s event at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Read his blog post from the event for further reflection on Yunus’ global outlook, including his distinction between “social business” and “selfish business.” For future events from the Chicago Council, visit TheChicagoCouncil.org.