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Yielding to the Magic of Professor Yunus
Shafeen Mustaq

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Who would have thought that one of the most charismatic speakers of our time is a simple, humble and effervescent economics professor from one of the smallest countries in the world? And yet when he enters the room there is a collective hush, a palpable lifting of spirits and undercurrent of excitement. One ‘feels’ that one is in the presence of genius, of a man who single-handedly revolutionised the way we think about credit. A man who put his money (and a lot more besides) where his mouth is.

Professor Mohammed Yunus was in Sydney and Melbourne for only three days in which he had two public speaking engagements courtesy of the Sydney Peace Foundation, a foundation which made him the inaugural recipient of their Peace prize in 1998... eight years before the penny dropped in Oslo! It was my good fortune to be meeting him a second time and be inspired yet again by a simple and rational call to action. The first time I met him was in Grameen Bank in Dhaka when I went to conduct research for my thesis in June of 2009. But that is a whole other story.

The second was in Sydney on 8th March 2010 where Professor Yunus presented a lecture aptly titled, ‘Abolishing poverty – the human rights priority’ He spoke to a packed theatre at the Wesley Mission Centre in Pitt St Sydney on 8th March 2010. And a hall full of people, two babies included, listened in pin drop silence as the man himself recounted the humble beginnings of Grameen Bank. Professor Yunus is an economics professor, a banker and a managing director, but most importantly, he is a motivator. He motivated a small group of women with a loan of 24 US dollars and thus began the Grameen story. He motivated women in rural villages in Bangladesh and empowered them to live better, healthier and more fulfilled lives for themselves and their children and now.. now professor Yunus is motivating individuals all around the globe to rethink credit, to rethink lending and most of all rethink the reasons we do business.

He says, We can do business to make a profit, it feeds the inherent selfishness in man to protect himself and his family. But where has that gotten us? In the wake of the global financial crisis in which everyone is rethinking the way we conduct our financial transactions, Professor Yunus is introducing the idea of social business, stemming from the inherent selflessness also in mankind. “The impulsive tendency humans have to help those in need can be put to good use in business”, he expounded. He spoke passionately, logically and most of all practically about the social business phenomena and how it can be implemented to bring about lasting change and abolish poverty.

Professor Yunus gave the example of Grameen’s partnerships in social business. With Danone to make yoghurt for undernourished children, with Veolia water to provide clean drinking water in the villages and with Adidas shoes to provide footwear for under one US dollar with the aim of preventing diseases such as hookworm. These partnerships yield profits which are invested back into the company and no pofit is taken by individuals. “The success of a social business is in the extent it helps others and not in the net profit.” emphasised professor Yunus. A social business asks, “How many children have we gotten out of malnutrition with our micronutrient enriched yoghurt?” as opposed to “How much money have we made?” It all sounds so simple and so real. And there he was, talking the talk AFTER walking the walk. A rare sight indeed.

Professor Yunus is a man who dared to believe in the power of individual ability. A man who defied conventional banking practices and gave microcredit to women. A man who is now defying the age old reality of poverty through his insistence that we, in our clamour for money and selfish business interests have stolen the human rights of others and condemned them to poverty. Professor Yunus emphatically stated that no individual is lacking, no individual is condemned to poverty. It is our denial of human rights that has led to a state of poverty for some individuals over others. And it is now our individual and collective responsibility to ensure that we strip away the fear and hesitance imposed by a sustained state of poverty and empower those less fortunate with their due human rights and in doing so abolish poverty worldwide. Professor Yunus says this so calmly, so rationally that it really does seem like a reality rather than a possibility.
For a man who has accomplished so much, Professor Yunus is overwhelmingly humble in his dress (he wears only Grameen check, woven and manufactured by Grameen workers) and manner. His clear and confident voice carries and reverberates in my mind long after his lecture has ended. His emphasis that individual action can bring about sustained change is evident in his own achievements. And I leave believing in the power of individual action and inspired once again to catalyse change and believe that a world sans poverty can be a reality.

My heartfelt congratulations to Professor Yunus for all his accomplishments, and for being an inspiration to so many people around the world. We hope you continue to help and inspire many more for a long time to come!

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