Keynote speaker: Muhammad Yunus, founder Grameen Bank

Interviewed by Mark Weinberger

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Session recap

Yunus: social business helps to open doors

A world revolution in finance began with a simple act.

In his travels to villages around rural Bangladesh, Muhammad Yunus saw how endemic poverty was made even worse by the high cost of money. Banks in Bangladesh were wary of lending to the poor; for many people, the only source of credit was a loan shark. Yunus responded by reaching into his own pockets to finance loans. The amounts were small — tiny, by Western standards. The microlending industry had been born.

Yunus, Thursday’s opening keynote speaker, guaranteed even more loans because he believed in a simple but powerful truth: every human being is an entrepreneur. Today, the bank he founded, Grameen Bank, has more than 8.4 million borrowers and lends more than US$1.5 billion each year.

Yunus, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, says entrepreneurship is in our DNA. Our distant ancestors didn’t sit in their caves sending out job applications, he notes; they went out and did what they needed to do. Given the funding, poor people can do exactly the same thing.

The microfinancing that helps them transform their aspirations into reality isn’t a charity in the traditional sense. Charity, for all of its obvious benefits, has its limitations: the money goes out and never comes back. A business focused on the social good — social business — sends the money out, gets it back and sends it out again, multiplying the good it can do.

Traditional business focuses on making money. Social business, by contrast, looks to solve problems by pursuing the objectives of charity and harnessing business methodologies to achieve them. By tapping into the entrepreneurship inherent in all of us, social business can tackle the truly pressing challenges we face, from health care to poverty to unemployment. The challenges can be met, Yunus says: all business needs is a door, and he is working to open that door.

Consider electricity in Bangladesh, where 70% of the population doesn’t have power. Yunus’ solution was to offer solar home systems with monthly payments equal to the amount rural families spend each month on kerosene. There are now 1.5 million homes in Bangladesh where families can turn on a light — another simple act, and more than that, a testament to the power of entrepreneurship.


Keynote speaker

EY - Muhammad Yunus

Professor Muhammad Yunus
Grameen Bank
Nobel Peace Prize recipient 2006

Interviewed by

EY - Mark A. Weinberger

Mark A. Weinberger
Global Chairman & CEO