The champion of poverty alleviation

Salma Khan  


Bangladesh’s evergreen citizen of the world, and champion of poverty alleviation and employment, is 75. He is our pride. The latter half of the last century was the golden age of opportunity for economic development based on capitalist ideology. There were unimaginable achievements in medical science, an increase in average lifespan, spread of education, startling innovations in technology, and a doubling of global food production, but all that did not trickle down to all places of the world.

Capitalist economics has made wealthy countries wealthier while poorer people in other parts of the world could not access opportunities to overcome poverty. Individual-centric capitalism has been the key to development, but governments of rich and poor countries alike have failed to ensure for the poor, access to banks and financial institutions. As poor people did not have the collateral required for bank loans, under our economic structure, they could not effectively harness their labour to rise above poverty.

It was 39 years ago that Muhammed Yunus went beyond these limitations of capitalism and opened the doors of potential for the poor, by means of collateral-free microcredit. Muhammed Yunus and his brainchild, Grameen Bank, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for creating the opportunity to tackle poverty through microcredit. Grameen Bank’s microcredit model is now replicated in countries of Asia, the Americas, Europe, Africa, and indeed, all over the world.

While Grameen Bank’s microcredit is an effective tool as the first step to overcome poverty, Yunus realised through long experience that entrepreneurs would have to be encouraged to invest in resolving various social problems, without the expectation of personal benefit. This, he felt, would not be possible in the production system of profit-driven capitalist ideology. Thus, Yunus came up with the concept of social business.

According to Muhammed Yunus, in order to give the capitalist structure completeness, opportunities would have to be created through business so that an entrepreneur would not be limited to just generating personal profit, but be driven by his inborn spirit of social welfare to invest in social business where the profit would be reinvested for the same purpose. In social business, the entrepreneur invests where there is a social problem to be addressed.

In social business, the entrepreneur invests with the objective of solving a social problem. The driving force behind the social business concept of Yunus is the inherent will to do good for others, and to gain the satisfaction of providing social welfare. A capitalist person can carry out both profit oriented business and, separately, social business. The difference is, in social business the investor only gets back his investment, while the profit is used for the expansion of the company (the social business), for labour welfare, for environment-friendly conditions, etc.

Social business entrepreneurs are provided loans from funds created for the purpose of social business. Presently social entrepreneurs can avail funds from four institutions in the country, and nine at an international level.

Like Grameen Bank’s microcredit, Yunus social business concept has created a sensation worldwide. Many feel that social business is the only sustainable tool to address the steadily increasing discrimination in the world. Alongside their businesses, business leaders of the capitalist world are taking up social business as part of their social responsibility.

According to Oxfam, by next year, half of the world’s wealth will go to just one percent of the world population. In the last five years, the wealth of the top 85 richest people has doubled. So there is no alternative but to take up social business for sustainable economic justice and equity. Social business has expanded at a government and private level in Colombia, Philippines, Nepal, India, Cambodia, Haiti, Uganda, Brazil, Albania, and other countries of the world, in order to address unemployment, poverty, and local problems. Results have been positive.

In Bangladesh, the social business slogan aimed at young entrepreneurs is, ‘We are not job seekers, we are job providers.’ An entrepreneur creates employment through social business. The children of many Grameen Bank borrowers, rather than going from door to door in search of jobs, are generating income for themselves and others as young entrepreneurs. According to an Economic  Intelligence report this year, Bangladesh has the highest number of jobless graduates in South Asia. About 2.2 million young people enter the labour market annually in the country, in search of employment. If they can be made entrepreneurs through social business, then unemployment can be eliminated.

Yunus’s ‘Three Zeros and four things to do’ theory has generated considerable attention: 1) zero poverty; 2) zero unemployment; and, 3) zero carbon emissions. To achieve the “Three Zeros,” the four things to be done are: 1) Harness the energy and creativity of the youth; 2) Use the power of technology; 3) Transform business into social business; and, 4) Ensure good governance.

Grameen Bank’s success in microcredit and the humane, economic concept of social business, have won Yunus 112 international awards. He has won 55 honorary doctorate degrees from 20 renowned universities of the world. Time magazine hailed him as an Asian Hero and he was named to be one of the top 100 public intellectuals of the world in 2008.

His books, Banker to the Poor, Creating a World Without Poverty, and Building Social Business, have won international acclaim and have been translated into 15 to 20 languages. He was appointed Chancellor of the Caledonian University of Glasgow in 2012.

Yunus’s work has spread through the world, but his life and vision is about Bangladesh. We wish Yunus a healthy and productive life. May Yunus live long in fulfilling his dream for Bangladesh. Happy Birthday!

Source: Prothom Alo


  1. Yunus’ idea of ‘three zeros’ and ‘four things’ is unique in the sense that these define in a unique way both the goals of ‘development’ (‘3 zeros’) and the policy framework (‘four things’)relevant to achieving goals.

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