Nobel Laureate speaks at MUB
‘Banker to the poor’ inspires students to pursue social business innovation
Published: Tuesday, October 1, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, October 1, 2013 01:10
UNH students hoping to change the world through business learned from the very best Monday morning, when 2006 Nobel Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus visited the university.
Yunus is often referred to as the “Father of Microcredit” and “Banker to the Poor,” as he has helped to lift millions out of poverty through modest loans to poor entrepreneurs. His dedication to the eradication of poverty coincided perfectly with the goals outlined by students competing in the Paul College of Business and Economics’ Social Business Innovation Challenge.
“Professor Yunus shared a powerful vision for social business,” Yusi Wang Turell, executive director of the Center on Social Innovation and Finance at the Carsey Institute, said. “His ideas resonate with UNH students’ values of sustainability, social justice, and in novation and entrepreneurship.”
Yunus addressed a full house in the Granite State Room on Monday morning before presenting the awards to the top three teams competing in the Social Business Innovation Challenge. Behind him, two large projector screens read, “The only place where poverty should be is in a museum.”
Yunus is well on his way to making this a reality. He is one of only seven people to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom and the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal.
In the mid-1970s, the economics professor loaned 27 USD to 42 families in his native Bangladesh, to help them repay debts to creditors. When he realized what a difference the small loans made, he decided to pursue the ideas of social business – that is, a model where there are no dividends and the profit is reintroduced into the business – and microcredit. In 1983, Yunus established the Grameen Bank, which gave impoverished people access to credit and, in turn, an escape from debt and poverty. Today, there are over 100 institutions worldwide that are modeled after the Grameen Bank. Through the creation of the Grameen Foundation in 1997, healthcare and agricultural endeavors joined microfinance in addressing poverty.
Largely due to Yunus’ work, as of 2013, Bangladesh’s poverty rate has been cut in half. This reduction comes two and a half years before the 2015 “termination date” outlined by the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.
“It’s possible,” Yunus said. “It’s not a pipe dream … I firmly believe that if we believe we can create a world without poverty, it will happen, and it will happen soon.”
Yunus relayed a powerful metaphor, claiming that poor people are like Bonzai tree seeds planted in small flowerpots. With so little space, the tree will not flourish, but the seeds are not to blame.
“It’s not the fault of the seed, it’s the fault of the people who planted it in a flowerpot,” Yunus said. “Poor people are Bonzai people. Society never gave them the space to grow.”
Yunus established that he firmly believes that, if given the right resources and support, every person is capable of self-sufficiency and success.
Thomas Safford, associate professor of sociology, utilizes Yunus’ work and the Grameen Bank model as part of his curriculum; he has also seen the positive impact of micro-lending first hand through his work and research in Brazil and Bolivia.
“In the case of lenders in Brazil, there is a real ‘community’ approach with loans being dispersed to groups of borrowers who support each other in their effort to start businesses and pay back their loans,” Safford said. “For me the truly transformative aspect of Grameen Bank, and others like it, is the role it plays in fostering solidarity and shared responsibility. These are intangibles that may be even more valuable to poor individuals and communities trying to address poverty than that actual money from the loans.”
This is a principle that the Social Business Innovation Challenge’s participants and supporters believe in as well. The challenge invited student and community entrepreneurs to “identify a pressing social or environmental issue at the local, regional, national or global level and propose an innovative social business solution to address that problem.” In total, 65 teams – 39 student-track teams and 26 community-track teams – answered this call with unique proposals.
“In the student track alone we had entries from students in at least 18 different majors, showing that the entrepreneurial ideals behind social business innovation are campus-wide ideas, ideas which have the ability to break down silos and to bring together individuals across traditional disciplinary lines to solve major social and environmental problems,” Fiona Wilson, assistant professor of strategy, social entrepreneurship and sustainability and member of the forum committee, said.
“The registration deadline was just four weeks after the start of classes, so we weren’t sure what level of student participation we’d get,” Turell said. “But the strong response … really affirmed that students are eager to engage in innovative approaches to solving the social and environmental issues they care about.”
Finalist teams presented Monday morning as part of the New Hampshire Social Business and Microfinance Forum, and the top three teams from each track received $4,200, $2,000, and $1,000, respectively. The prize money is to be used to further their social business projects.
UNH students Alex Freid (2013 graduate and alumnus), Tyler Loranger