Lest they should look away

June 23, 2016 14:13 PM Arun Kumar Shrivastav


Physically fit, erudite and clad in simple clothes, Grameen Bank founder and Noble peace prize winner of the year 2006, Prof Yunus is a toast to international university circuits, thanks to the simplicity with which he can explain abstract economic theories to both the university scholars and the illiterate masses. On June 11, he was addressing students at the University of California (UC) as a key-note speaker at the all-university commencement (convocation) ceremony at UC San Diego.

Running after a job can be referred to as “the tyranny of employment” which kills creativity and is based on an artificial economic system, he told over 14,000 graduates present at the ceremony. Speaking on the occasion Chancellor of UC San Diego Pradeep Khosla said, “Our students and alumni are courageous and inventive, they push boundaries and challenge expectations, much like our convocation speaker for the all-campus convocation, Muhammad Yunus.”

Before his convocation speech, Prof Yunus was awarded the Chancellor's Medal. He is the 11th such person to receive it from the University since it was established in 1960.

Young entrepreneurs should create businesses to solve problems, not just to make money. We are into a problem-solving business. We call it Social Business.

That’s the kind of respect and charm the ageing economist from our neighborhood Bangladesh enjoys the world over. But when did we hear him last in at JNU, DU or Tribhuvan University or Kathmandu University, let alone smaller universities? That we give a damn to the scholars from our region is telling on our universities and the higher education sector. That we don’t give a hoot to our scholars only makes them look away, and that’s a business opportunity for those who take business as business. Inviting Prof Yunus here in the universities of the neighboring countries would make much more sense than sending children to universities all over the world and then inviting Prof Yunus and the like there to share their wisdom. 

I had a chance to hear the great scholar twice in a single day at two different events in Kathmandu on Dec 22, 2012.  From the dispatches I made for my publication, I here cull out some gems from what he said.

New Generation

The new generation is born with a bundle of technological advantages. People of this generation anywhere in the world are global citizens. The social media -- Facebook and Twitter -- are making their presence global without any cost. So, the idea is today’s young people anywhere in the world is the most powerful generation in the history. You are like a genie. Like a Superman on television, you could be working normally in the office and suddenly when there is a problem, you use the Superman knowledge and creativity to solve the problems around you in the much the same as Superman zooms on to sky and sets everything right. Inside every young woman or man of today, there is a Superman. One alone can change the entire world.

Poverty

First, poverty is not created by poor people; it's an externally imposed phenomenon. Second, it's the system, policy, conceptual framework, institutional design that discriminate the poor and keep them in poverty. Third, to reduce poverty, we need to redesign the system, policy and institutions so that they start working for everyone, not just the rich. The system is already undergoing the change. Though micro credit is practiced worldwide, it's concentration in our part of the globe is extremely high. It's because micro-credit empowers women economically. There are more women in this sector and we must understand that women are not something you can ignore economically anymore.

Social Business

Young entrepreneurs should create businesses to solve problems, not just to make money. We are into a problem-solving business. We call it Social Business. Every time I see a problem, I create a new business idea to solve that problem. Profit is not the motive.

I give you an example how I set up a social business. In Bangladesh, most people use ground water, which is highly arsenic-contaminated. Almost fifty percent of the people drink arsenic-contaminated water. We wanted to solve the problem and as an experiment, we set up a water treatment plant in a village for the village folks to use clean water (http://www.grameenveoliawaterltd.com/). We also charged a small amount of money from the villagers, which we thought was affordable for them, to run the business. But that was not enough to meet the costs involved. So, we started to sell the treated water in the open market after neatly bottling it like established brands would do. Because we did not intend to make profits, we kept the prices low just as much that would meet our costs. Now, our 20-litre jar water is available at much cheaper price in the market than other brands and we are an important player in the bottled water market in Bangladesh.

So, for every problem, you can create a business. If we go about this way, the current generation of young people would have plenty of work and businesses to do because we have so many problems. Since these people are the most powerful people thanks to their access to information and technology, which makes things so easy for them, they can solve all the problems and poverty will be a thing of the past, something to be put in the museum.

 


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