Professor Muhammad Yunus has dedicated most of his working life to eradicating poverty and solving social challenges. He does this through innovative business solutions. An economist, he found that very small loans could make a disproportionate difference to people. This was particularly true of women in some of the poorest households in Bangladesh. Traditional banks refused to loan money to the poor, because of the risk of default. But Professor Yunus trusted the recipients. He lent US$27 of his own money to 42 women. They each paid back the loan. Microcredit was born.
Professor Yunus finally secured a loan from a government bank to lend to the poor in 1976. In 1983 he launched the Grameen Bank (‘Village Bank’) to make small loans to the poor. Today the Grameen Bank lends US$100 million a month. More than 300 million people have been recipients of loans globally, 98% cent of them women.
Professor Yunus’ ultimate goal is to eliminate poverty. He has spoken of wanting to build ‘poverty museums’ to show what it used to be like. In 1971 85% of people in Bangladesh were below the poverty line. Today that figure is 22%.
In total, Professor Yunus has created more than 100 social businesses in Bangladesh. These businesses have been created to solve social problems. These include nutrition, health, water and sanitation. For example, in the 1970s, night blindness was prevalent among children in Bangladesh, due to vitamin A deficiency. Professor Yunus set up a business to sell packets of seeds at affordable prices. This meant families could grow vegetables containing vitamin A. Night blindness is no longer a major issue in Bangladesh.
He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. He was awarded a US Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009, and a US Congressional Media in 2010. He is one of only seven people to have received all three awards.
Six of our favourite quotes from his Auckland talk
- “If you want to get people out of poverty, don’t look at the poor people. Look at the system that is responsible for creating that poverty.”
- “If you are following the same road, it will always take you to the same destination. If you want to go someplace else, you have to build new roads. People from the old roads will be against you, so you have to defy them.”
- “All human beings need financial oxygen for survival, otherwise they will be weak.”
- “The current generation of young people is the most powerful generation in history because of the technology in their hands. But if they don’t know what their purpose is, their power will go to waste.”
- “Making money is happiness. Making other people money is super happiness.”
- “You have to define your destination, and then use your imagination to find the path to reach it.”
Professor Yunus’ visit to Auckland was hosted by The Aera Foundation, Kiwibank and AUT University.