Muhammad Yunus and social enterprise

Muhammad Yunus and Paulo Coelho

Muhammad Yunus and Paulo Coelho

I’m encouraging young people to become social business entrepreneurs and contribute to the world, rather than just making money. Making money is no fun. Contributing to and changing the world is a lot more fun.

Poor people are a like bonsai tree, a little tree. You pick the seed of the tallest tree in the forest and take the best seed out of it, and plant it in a flower pot. You get a tiny little tree, we call it a bonsai. Nothing wrong with the seed, you’ve got the best seed possible. Nothing wrong with the tree, because you actually picked the tallest tree in the forest. But actually it grows this far … why? Because we put them in the flower pot. The base. Society is the base. And society is so stingy it doesn’t give the poor people the space to grow.

So I say, change the base! If you change the base, anybody will be as tall as anybody else! My belief is poverty is not caused by poor people. Poverty is caused by the system. Poverty is caused by the policies that we pursue.

People can change their own lives, provided they have the right kind of institutional support. They’re not asking for charity, charity is no solution to poverty. Poverty is the creation of opportunities like everybody else has, not the poor people, so bring them to the poor people, so that they can change their lives.

We have created a society that does not allow opportunities for people to take care of themselves because we have denied them those opportunities.

I was teaching in one of the universities while the country was suffering from a severe famine. People were dying of hunger, and I felt very helpless. As an economist, I had no tool in my tool box to fix that kind of situation.

I went to the bank and proposed that they lend money to the poor people. The bankers almost fell over.

They explained to me that the bank cannot lend money to poor people because these people are not creditworthy.

Poverty is unnecessary.

– Muhammad Yunus

Poverty is not natural any more than climate change is natural, or that globalisation is set in stone. All are man made, therefore all can be changed by man. All it takes is will and a paradigm shift in our way of thinking.

The poor are not poor because they are not hard working or lack innovative skills. Try living on a dollar a day or try existing in war-ravaged Iraq, or try living in the West on the meagre handouts from the state for those who are disabled or unemployed.

In the UK the government has today announced that those who are unemployed for more than a year will have to work for nothing. This follows hard on the heals of savage cuts in welfare payments of £7 billion (but it is ok for Vodafone to be let off a £6 billion tax bill). It had earlier been announced that unemployed for more than a year will have their housing payments cut by 10% leading to widespread eviction and homelessness.

It not lack of skills that make people poor, it is the state grinding them down and lack of access to resources. Actions by the UK government are not based on actually asking people want they want, what help they need, it is designed to punish and demonise and denigrate those who are worse off than the rest of us.

Synchronicity: Last week I had a meeting with Prof Adel Sharif at Surrey University. Two names cropped up in our conversation on social enterprise, Muhammad Yunus and Paulo Coelho. On my way home I checked my messages and found a message from Paulo Coelho to say that he and Muhammad Yunus were jointly presenting at a conference on social enterprise, then a few days later I find he has posted on his blog Muhammad Yunus as his character of the week! [see Communication with the Soul of the World]

Also see

Creating a World Without Poverty

Grateful Vodafone executives say a big thank you to Chancellor George Osborne

Ministers defend plan to force jobless to do work

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