Yunus: Citizens have to fix things themselves

Updated: Jul 27

“Corona is an unpleasant example of being global so fast. A happy thing can spread around the world at the same speed. May be even faster”, told us Mohammad Yunus in a written exclusive interview last May focusing the post Covid-19 world.

His confidence grows from the work for which he became renowned and was awarded, together with the Grameen Bank, the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize “for their efforts through microcredit to create economic and social development from below“.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee said that “lasting peace cannot be achieved unless large population groups find ways in which to break out of poverty“ and that “across cultures and civilizations, Yunus and Grameen Bank have shown that even the poorest of the poor can work to bring about their own development“.

It was Yunus who pioneered the concepts of microcredit and microfinance in 1976, personally lending 5,350 US dollars he borrowed from a bank for financing peasant initiatives in Bangladesh. As he had hoped, everything, down to the last cent, was repaid. He repeated the operation, increasing the sums involved, and always obtained the same results.

“Development experts say the poor lack the ability to do business. My reply is that the ability to survive is the basis for deciding the granting of credit”, Yunus said at the time.

In 1974, he was heading the Faculty of Economics in the university of his native city, Chittagong. He was just 34 and his country was in the first throes of one of 20th century’s most relentless periods of starvation. “I was teaching elegant economic theories while the streets were full of walking skeletons”, Yunus recalled time back, soon after creating the Grameen Bank, in 1983.

His first step came through a conversation with a woman who made bamboo objects buying her material with money borrowed from a trader to whom she sold her products at a price fixed by him.

“Would you earn more if you didn’t have to sell to the trader?” Yunus asked her. “Of course, but where would I find the cash to buy my bamboo?” she answered.

Many others found themselves in the same situation. “Access to small capital would increase their earnings. Why don’t the banks give them credit?” he asked. “It’s very risky. The poor have no guarantees. We would never recover our cash if they didn’t give it back,” was the answer of a bank manager.

Yunus’ reflection was: “It was a way of saying the poor are ‘untouchables’. It’s not the poor that create poverty but those who deny them the right opportunity”.

The Grameen Bank was lending money only to the poorest and became the world’s most efficient bank in a key aspect: 98 percent was regularly repaid.

This was not the only surprising statistic: 94 percent of the bank’s customers were women, because they have shown themselves to be the most efficient and trustworthy, explained Yunus.

The Grameen model started spreading throughout the world, including wealthy countries like France and the United States.

Thirty-seven years after

“Yes, initiatives will start small, locally. Almost invisible at the beginning. But if it brings good news, it will be everywhere in no time”, he told CitiPlat today, thirty-seven years after conceiving the microcredit system and nearing his 80th birthday.

He then highlighted what appears as another evidence of his thought: “Greta [Thunberg] has given face to the conscious young generation. They were there. But nobody knew that they existed. Greta made them visible. Suddenly we see them everywhere”.

Perhaps out of his own stubbornness, Yunus warned the youth: “Stay visible. Don’t allow yourselves to go out of sight again…Existing system is very good in putting pressing demands to sleep by grand assurances. Be aware of that”.

He added that the visible part of the younger generation is only the tip of the iceberg. “Don’t stop there,” he urged, “make the whole iceberg visible. That’s a hard work. But don’t give up. Otherwise the large invisible portion of your generation will pull the small visible part of your generation down to invisibility”.

It is surely the lessons that come from spending his entire life building communities that dictated the second piece of advice: “Don’t forget the families you are coming from, families of your friends and your neighbours. Together you and them are the world. They are running companies, financial institutions, governments, educational institutions, media. You are in every family. Get your family, friends of your family, families of your friends on your side. You may be angry with them, but without their support it’ll be impossible to get what you want”.

What do we want after a pandemic that so far and according to several statistics that reflect only official data, has contaminated at least seven million and killed over four hundred thousand?

“The world that others want us to go back to was a world on the verge of disaster”, answered Yunus.

The risk of committing suicide

“There was, and there is consensus on at least on one issue, that is on global warming. All governments, except one, joined that consensus”, he continued, without being specific about the decision of USA’s President Donald Trump to leave the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

For Yunus, “wealth is accumulated through a process which contributes to global warming… Since the wealth is concentrated in the hands of tiny fraction of world population they are responsible for contributing the overwhelming portion of global warming”.

He observes many other issues on which “there is strong support that world is in disaster path. There is a strong voice that going back to the old world is almost like committing suicide”.

“That voice exists across age, wealth, race, and nationality. If we can build on this common understanding we can build a very strong momentum to start the process of building a new framework for the new world”, stressed Yunus in the interview.

He completed his thought once again encouraging hope: “Like all new journeys, it will be slow, it will be a journey through unknowns, it will be learning through doing, with cautious steps. But it will make us escape the suicide path”.

However, Yunus couldn’t help but be realistic: “Government, financial system and businesses are in a hurry to get back. Those who do not want to go back to the same world are financially and politically weak, they may have a blueprint to create a new world, but it is untried, unverified”.

Nevertheless, he speaks again with confidence about the power of individuals: “Initially contribution from each individual is imperceptibly small. But number is always in favour of people. Together they constitute a large number”, and he considers that the primary role of a government “is to empower citizens, facilitate unleashing of their creative power, act as a cheer-leader for the citizens who are engaged in solving problems of the society”.

Socially and environmentally conscious

Yunus’ critical analysis of the state of the world led him in the interview to express his believe that the concept of business as an exclusively profit maximizing institution is the root cause of all our global problems.

His vision is that that concept should be widened to include what calls “social business,” one which is created exclusively to solve problems and includes zero personal profits.

Instead of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), Yunus wants to encourage corporates and other profit maximizing businesses to invest money in social businesses, create social business funds rather than give charity as CSR.

He says with clarity: “The present financial system is the vehicle which creates extreme wealth concentration […] needs to be redesigned entirely to make it equally available…from the poorest to the richest. This will require creation of social business finan