#SASI #campus #yunussocialbusiness
I was lucky enough (along with Victoria Reca) to meet Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Co-president of the HEC Paris Social Business /Enterprise and Poverty Chair as he was invited on HEC campus.
I try not to over-dramatize my life, but being offered one shot, one opportunity, to interview a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and creator of the industry I want to work in would naturally tends to throw at least a little drama into my life. So, if you had one shot, or one opportunity, to ask 3 questions to a Nobel Laureate, what would you ask? When offered, I of course immediately jumped at the chance, but was simultaneously met with a burden of pressure. My mind raced with topics and comments and questions to bring up, excited to raise them at all with such an eminent leader in the field, but I also struggled with exactly which questions to ask. I am intensely curious about the idea of microcredit and the solutions it offers for the poor, yet I harbored my own inner doubts about its true effectiveness. For some time now, and into the foreseeable future, I have been on a search for the best solution to address societal issues – “Competent Compassion”, in the words of famed Filipino social entrepreneur Tony Meloto. This search has brought me to HEC Paris to explore the idea of business for social impact, and so I finally decided to frame my questions around my personal curiosities, as this would be the most genuine. So here they are.
Can microcredit be seen as a long-term solution for poverty?
In their 2010 book Just Give Money to the Poor: The Development Revolution from the Global
South, Armando Barrientos and David Hulme, Directors of the Brooks World Poverty Institute at the University of Manchester, argue for direct transfer of cash to households in developing nations as an effective poverty reduction tactic. They cite growing evidence from many nations across the Global South such as Bolivia on how the poor have frequently made good use of these money transfers, posting positive short run and long run benefits. While Barrientos and Hulme do not directly criticize Yunus, their idea certainly is not supporting the Grameen Bank and the Microcredit movement. It is a representation of the criticism that has been levelled towards Yunus by a number of parties in the past – specifically saying that microcredit is not a long term solution, and in many cases saddles unnecessary debt onto the poor.
So given this criticism, I decided to ask Professor Yunus about this, to hear his response. In reply to the question, Professor Yunus stated that “if you have a better idea, go ahead and do it. What is stopping you? Since we didn’t have any better ideas, this is what we did.” Indeed, microcredit has impacted the lives of millions around the world, whether critics like it or not. Yunus continued to emphasize the practicality, saying that “instead of saying this is not big enough, this is not effective enough, this is not long term enough, the challenge is: Do it!” He spoke at length of this, saying that critics should be taking action, “not writing a book on how bad the other guy is”. Yet, it is important to note that throughout the answer, Yunus also emphasized that “I not defending what I do… I am saying that’s all I know”, and that “if you have a better idea I’d love to learn from you.”