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"Building Social Business" with Muhammad Yunus

By Andrew Koehler

Last Friday, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs brought Dr. Muhammad Yunus to Chicago for a talk entitled “Building Social Business.” Dr. Yunus, often called the grandfather of microfinance, is the founder and managing director of Grameen Bank and the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize Winner. Friday’s talk was attended by an audience that consisted of local professionals, business leaders, students and educators, who were all interested in learning more about the principles and impact of building social businesses.

At Friday’s presentation, Yunus spoke extensively about his new book, Building Social Business, but he also devoted a significant portion of his speech to defining the concept “social business,” and to telling his personal story about the route he took to build his social business platform. He also discussed his work with Dannon Yogurt Co. to develop a nutrient-enriched yogurt product for children that would help curb child malnutrition in Bangladesh. Yunus highlighted this project as a prime example of a business developing a cheap yet economically viable product, providing a sustainable solution to pressing social needs.

Yunus’ greatest strength may be his ability to envision his projects and goals on a grand scale. His ability to break down a complex social system, and explain it in a very pragmatic way with solutions, shows his dedication to enacting sustainable and long-term social change.

Yunus’ many years of experience in both commercial and social business make it possible for him to draw a line in the sand between the two. He spoke passionately on his stance, affirming that “selfish business does not mix with selfless business, and the two must exist independently of one another.” This distinction between “selfish business” and “selfless business” was the cornerstone of his presentation on Friday, and a point to which he returned to emphasize his call for a shift in the business system.

Dr. Yunus challenged us all to become part of the global solution to the problem of “selfish business” when he declared his goal to someday start a “social business stock market.” It was a humorous moment, and it produced a ripple of laughter in the audience. But Dr. Yunus was also driving home a point — one which he has made for much of his career. The system is flawed, he admits, but we all  have the power to change it.


Opportunity International is a member of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Read our previous blog post on the Chicago Council’s May 4th event, “Investing in Women, Enriching the World,” with Ambassador Melanne Verveer,  ambassador-at-large for Global Women’s Issues under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. For more information on the Chicago Council’s future events, visit TheChicagoCouncil.org.

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