- Muhammad Yunus solves a social problem by giving micro-loans to the poor – turning them into entrepreneurs.
- The effects of his first loan, a total of $27 to 42 people, make him realize that people are not poor from being lazy, but because financial institutions do not help them.
- He forms Grameen Bank, providing loans totalling $16 billion to 8.5 million families in Bangladesh, with almost every country in the world now copying his lending model.
- In this exclusive interview, the Nobel Peace Laureate tells Real Leaders about the link between peace, jobs and money.
What is your idea of peace?
The lack of violence is a superficial peace. Feeling happy is not peace either. Peace is a balance of all the elements found within society: economic, political and social. When you achieve this you leave no room for confrontation because one segment of society is not enjoying special privilege over another.
Peace happens when one does not disrupt somebody else’s rights. It’s the constant acknowledgement of human rights for everyone. You should be allowed to lead your life according to your own desires and beliefs. This applies to people, entities and states alike.
How would you activate peace in the world?
We need to redesign the economic system. This is the only way, because the current system is unsustainable.
We need to work towards the creation of zero poverty, zero unemployment and zero net carbon emission by 2050 to close the widening gap between rich and poor. If we all create strong social businesses we can completely transform the world.
We all have the option of being an entrepreneur. Young people should be told that they should not start their lives as job seekers; they should start as job creators. More and more people should develop the potential to become job creators.
We should not live a life on this planet without caring for the future safety of it and should be careful how we use its resources. We should be aware that we have to ensure that future generations can enjoy their lives with the resources we leave behind. We shouldn’t use all the world’s resources and leave nothing for them. We must take good care of – not just for the next five or ten generations, but for all generations to come
The new world of business will have three elements, each equal in importance: people, planet and profit. A world that is only money seeking is not good, it has to come to an end. If not, it will put us to an irreversible path towards social, economic, and environmental disaster.
What is the biggest threat to world peace right now?
The unsustainable nature of world economics and social structures. A huge number of people in the world have nothing, and a handful of people – you can literally count them in the hundreds – own all the wealth of the world.
The vast majority on the planet control less than one percent of the world’s wealth while a few people and families control around 90 percent. That’s not sustainable. Then you have the environment – under threat from a carbon-based economy. Producing carbon is creating an unsustainable planet.
Do you think the planet can sustain a world that is all middle class? Are there enough natural resources?
No, you will need to undo the present system to achieve this. At present, wealth is like a magnet: if you have a small magnet you attract small amounts of additional wealth. If your magnet becomes bigger you attract more, sucking up resources for yourself while others remain empty-handed.
Under the present economic framework, human beings are imagined as being a selfish species, wanting simply to enhance personal wealth. This is a wrong perception of who we really are. Real human beings are not just moneymakers and selfish, they are equally caring, sharing and selfless beings. They are a combination of selfishness and selflessness.
Today selflessness is imagined to be a feature of some special people, the philanthropists, who make money first and then donate it to help others. They do wonderful work but philanthropy has a limitation – it’s not sustainable. Philanthropy money does not come back, it has a one-time use. Social business is a better solution as it has the goal of philanthropy and the sustainability of business.
I consider employment an artificial creation of our present system. From an early age we are told that we need to find a job. This is a wrong perception. Human beings are not made to work under someone else. Human are go-getters who can solve their own problems. We are all basically entrepreneurs, yet we are teaching our children that they need education to get a good job. This is absolutely the wrong message. Each child should grow up to become an entrepreneur, a creative person who believes they can do things on their own.
Is business more powerful in solving problems than governments?
Definitely not the businesses we see around us who are not concerned with the problems of the world. They are too busy making money for their shareholders. But social businesses, yes, they are built to solve people’s problems. There should be no conflict between a business and a social business. Governments should support them because they are in business to solve social problems. If you leave things to the present business model, I’m sorry to say we won’t have a good future.
What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned on your journey as a leader?
That people are good and given an opportunity they will do the right thing. The political, economic and social systems we have created for ourselves have pushed good people to do wrong things. These systems have not created alternative options for us as human beings.
Was there anything that held you back when you started your business venture?
I didn’t have any doubts because I didn’t have any plans. When you have a plan, you have doubts. I was pushed by circumstances and was so desperate that I just jumped in.
Every day I saw people being financially exploited in cruel ways, with tiny loans from loan sharks. I reflected that this was a problem no one had ever solved before. It was a global problem and I knew that I was just one small guy. I decided that I couldn’t solve the whole world’s problems, but could solve the problems of a few.
I start giving loans with my own money, without any intention of making money for myself. People came to me for loans and I could help solve their problems. I took money from my own pocket and started lending to people. I wasn’t thinking of banking at that stage; simply trying to protect people from loan sharks. It kept growing and I eventually created Grameen Bank in 1983, based on the same values and principles as when I first started lending.
Some opposed me but I didn’t get upset. I thought it was part of the process that you have to go through. If you do something new, naturally some people who get affected will oppose you.
What is a real leader?
A leader enjoys the company of other people and has an ability to inspire them. It’s not about power and giving orders. You may not carry a title or hold a position, but people will admire you for what you say, what you do and how you live your life. People see consistency in words and work and you shouldn’t say one thing and do something else.
Leadership is about vision, if you see and think ahead, people follow you because they are convinced that you see more than they do. Others will believe in you because you have shown them a better way of doing things which they never believed possible.