I recently watched Muhammad Yunus full of joy, sharing his story and advocating for his ideas during his Nobel Lecture of December 10, 2006, at the Oslo City Hall, Norway. I was deeply inspired and connected to his values and believe. I would like to contribute my 2 cents in promoting his lecture in this post.
Muhammad Yunus talked about poverty as the absence of human rights and the need to promote social businesses either as non-dividend and not-for-losses businesses or those owned by their customers, the financially poor, as it is the case for Grameen Bank. Muhammad Yunus also talked about the need for a new kind of social business marketplace, the need to fight terrorism in the most sustainable way by diverting the developed nations spending from war into the poverty fight. He also shared all the diversifying efforts the Grameen organization is taking to address the multidimensional needs of the poor. Out of the many creative and incredible stories, he shared the initiative of lending to the beggars of Bangladesh. The Grameen bank today lends to 85,000 beggars. Out of those, 5,000 of them decided to transform themselves from beggars to door-to-door salesmen with the help of Grameen. It is wonderful to see that there is a deep belief in enterprising rather than charity as a mechanism to bring forth a sustainable future.
It was revealing for me to learn of his beginning as a professor, emotionally connected to people, troubled by the contrasts between theory and the reality out of the door of his classroom. He started finding ways to protect the dignity of the women borrowing from lenders who abused of their financial vulnerability. As he saw results in the little he thought he did initially, he looked at the traditional banking system to solve the borrower condition. But this banking system did not respond limited by its traditional practices, its lack of trust of customers and the demand for collateral. Thus, he decided to take it in his hand, from his own pocket literally.
This story was vivid to me, raised in a town surrounded and living with poverty. A reality we became used to. As I matured, this reality transformed from being natural to intolerable to me. My fellow Venezuelans, many of them, yet today, live vulnerable to the daily abuses of the imperfect market and a state that is unaccountable and ill-powered to respond and bring dignity and prosperity. After many years, the reality of exclusion and now segregation is there regardless of the good service that media and propaganda brings to my country government. I am just a new kid around the block. I am in Yunus late 70s. And I may not reach high and deep as he has. But watching Muhammad Yunus was supportive to this early, struggling path as social entrepreneur.
As Yunus, I believe in every human being regardless of his or her social and economical condition. Every one. The financial condition, the lack of access to basic human rights or any prejudice we may expectedly live with does not take away our humanity, our dignity, our creativity, our ability to prosper when given the chance and the right conditions. I firmly agree that it is not about charity. It is about giving opportunities and accompanying and supporting each other in the process.
For many years, I have been an advocate and practitioner of innovation. One of the convictions that I have always communicated to the youth is: “The world is what we want it to be. We have the power to change it and build the future we dream. What we have now is what we human beings created for ourselves given the conceptions of the times. But this does not have to be the future. In fact, it will not be. This is just a step in the long, continuously-emerging and erratic experiment called humanity.” I gladly heard Yunus bring that message loud and clear to inspire and support the many of us making our away through social enterprising.
Honor to Muhammad Yunus and the many who around him and in many other microfinance institutions are building this wonderful new world of hope, dignity and prosperity for every one.