Keynote speaker: Muhammad Yunus, founder Grameen Bank
Interviewed by Mark Weinberger
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.
Professor Muhammad Yunus
Nobel Peace Prize recipient 2006
Professor Yunus, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2006, is the founder of Grameen Bank and more than 50 other companies. For his constant innovation and enterprise, FORTUNE magazine named him “one of 12 greatest entrepreneurs of our time.”
Professor Yunus received the Fulbright Scholarship to study economics at Vanderbilt University, and he earned his PhD in Economics. He joined the University of Chittagong’s Department of Economics as its Chairman and later started to experiment with providing collateral-free loans to the poor. The project was called the Grameen Bank Project and later became a full-fledged bank for providing loans to the poor, mostly women, in rural Bangladesh. Today, Grameen Bank has over 8.4 million borrowers, 97% of whom are women, and disburses over US$1.5b each year.
Professor Yunus’ concept of social business, which he introduced into the economic framework, is defined as a non-dividend company dedicated to solving social problems, such as health care, education, sanitation, water pollution, unemployment and environmental degradation. His microcredit idea has spread to almost all the countries of the world, including the industrialized countries of the West.
Professor Yunus is one of the seven individuals to have received the Nobel Peace Prize, the United States Presidential Medal of Freedom and the United States Congressional Gold Medal. Other notable awards he has been awarded include the Ramon Magsaysay Award, the World Food Prize and the International Simon Bolivar Prize.
Professor Yunus is the author of several books, most recently Building Social Business: The New Kind of Capitalism That Serves Humanity’s Most Pressing Needs.
Mark A. Weinberger
Global Chairman & CEO
Mark was appointed Global Chairman & CEO-elect in 2012 and became Global Chairman & CEO in 2013. Mark serves as Chair of the Global Executive, EY’s highest level management body; the Global Practice Group; and the Global Public Policy Committee.
Prior to EY, Mark served as the Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Treasury (Tax Policy) in the George W. Bush Administration and was also appointed by President Clinton to serve on the US Social Security Administration Advisory Board.
Mark was co-founder of Washington Counsel, P.C., a Washington DC-based law and legislative advisory firm that merged into EY and now operates as Washington Council EY.
Mark sits on the Board of Directors for Catalyst, The Tax Council and the Bullis School. He holds a BA from Emory University, an MBA and JD from Case Western Reserve University and a Master of Laws in Taxation from Georgetown University Law Center.