I had the opportunity to hear Muhammad Yunus, unhealthy founder and director of The Grameen Bank, earlier this week speaking at an event in Seattle.
Yunus is very much an activist for practical solutions to defeating poverty. He recounted his story of starting The Grameen Bank, now one of the largest banks in Bangladesh with now over 5M micro-credit borrowers. They also launched a mobile phone company in Bangladesh called Grameen Phone targeting the rural poor which has now become not only the largest phone company in the country, but also the largest company and tax payer! More than 200,000 micro-entrepreneur “phone ladies” are now operating in villages all over Bangladesh renting out phone minutes to fellow villagers. This is a significant service to the rural communities, a profitable business for the phone ladies and a profitable business for the phone company — a triple win.
The Bonsai People
Yunus is very much an advocate for the potential of the human spirit in every person. He believes that people are poor not because of their own actions but because of the systems that have denied them the ability to reach their potential. Yunus provided the analogy of the bonsai tree. He said that you can take a seed from the largest tree in the forest and put it in a small pot, limit its water and it will grow up as a dwarf tree. Yunus said that this is a good analogy for how potential is not realized by poor people.
Dream Your World
Yunus was asked about how he would talk with well-off children about poverty. He said that we should encourage our children to dream about the world they want. Then we should encourage our children to pursue making that world. Wow!
Yunus was asked about what he saw as the next major movement. He talked about a new kind of business person who was building a business to make a profit (for no business will survive without profit) but also to equally value providing a social return. This contrasts with the Wall Street approach of focusing exclusively on maximizing profitability. He envisions an industry developing around social capitalism to run alongside the traditional profit-only focused industry.