‘Keep profitability and social enterprise separate’ - Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus

3rd Jul 2018
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The Nobel Laureate and microfinance pioneer believes human beings should be driven by empathy and selflessness. While money is important, providing solutions to social problems around us should take precedence.

Prof Muhammad Yunus

On a recent visit to Bengaluru, Prof Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Laureate and ‘banker to the poor’ spoke to a select gathering on the economics of social business, where Artificial Intelligence (AI) is heading, and why education needs to focus on creating entrepreneurs.

Prof Yunus established the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh in 1983, fuelled by the belief that credit is a fundamental right. His objective was to help the poor escape from poverty by providing them small loans and teaching them to be financially independent.

Prof Yunus believes that, by nature, we are all entrepreneurs. “We need more young people to come up with ideas. Everyone has a business idea. We have shown it effectively in Bangladesh where illiterate women with just Rs 2,000-5,000 can become entrepreneurs,” he said.

He elaborated on the need for specialised banks for the poor. “We need to create a new legislation for such banks that should be focussed on social business to solve problems and not make money.”

He, however, warned of the consequences arising out of the concentration of wealth in fewer hands and with a few countries. “One percent of the population holds 99 percent of the wealth of the entire world. The situation is getting worse by the day, with a lot of frustration among young people.”

AI will look at human beings as cockroaches

The Father of Microfinance spoke extensively on how AI and smart technology are taking over lives and becoming dangerous for humankind. When asked whether it’s just a doomsday conspiracy, he articulated the reasons for his fears.

“Machines have become smarter, and smarter. They will soon look at human beings as some kind of cockroaches on this planet who are doing nothing. Yes, doomsday is coming. I wrote an opinion piece recently that human beings would not survive this century and one of the reasons is AI. A lot of people will lose their jobs and human beings will not be needed anymore.”

So is there no way out of this conundrum, as one cannot perceive a world without technology? “Take technology as a blessing. AI is very smart, so use it wisely with restrictions and guidelines, channel and harness it in sectors like healthcare where it can make a huge difference, for prevention and analysis. But the direction it is taking now is terrible,” he opined.

Can profitability and social enterprise go hand in hand?

Prof Yunus believes we should all wear a bifocal lens when it comes to social business. “I wouldn’t want to mix profitability with social enterprise. I would keep them separate. Then you would have to explain how much of social you have in your business and how much of profit. Big businesses will not answer this question because they don’t know. But they use this concept to persuade that they are the ‘good guys’ without revealing that they are probably doing only one percent on the social front. So if you want to do both, keep it separate.”

He took this thought further with an idealistic explanation, that’s also perhaps the driving force behind his different initiatives. “Human beings should be driven by empathy; we need selflessness. I am not saying don’t talk money. Have a bifocal lens and also see the social problems around you and provide solutions.”

Not just job-ready, but life-ready

For young people to become entrepreneurs, any kind of education is not enough. “Universities say we produce job-ready young people. But they should be life-ready. The whole purpose of education is to explore your own capability. While education may teach you Science, Mathematics or any other subject, it does not talk about the purpose of your life, or what would you like to do. All big businesses began small. Human beings are, by nature, entrepreneurs and should not be slotted into a “salaried” job. If I can take five people out of employment, and give them a social business, it will empower them,” Yunus said.

And for youngsters, he had some words of wisdom. “Even if you want to go the whole hog and plan your life, do it in phases. The first could involve taking care of yourself, your family, etc and the second phase could be spent in the service of the people. Retirement is a terrible word, a human being never goes out of retirement,” he added.

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