Prof. Muhammad Yunus On The New Economics Of Zero Poverty, Zero Unemployment & Zero Net Carbon Emissions
Muhammad Yunus is a Bangladeshi social entrepreneur, banker, economist, and civil society leader who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for founding the Grameen Bank and pioneering the concepts of microcredit and microfinance. These loans are given to entrepreneurs too poor to qualify for traditional bank loans. In 2006, Yunus and the Grameen Bank were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize "for their efforts through microcredit to create economic and social development from below".
This article captures the essence of the conference that Professor Muhammad Yunus gave on 13 November, 2018, at Caixa Forum in Barcelona, promoting his book, "A World Of Three Zeros -The New Economics of Zero Poverty, Zero Unemployment, and Zero Net Carbon Emissions.”
Professor Yunus discussed microcredit, the process and some of the key challenges. He also spoke about the origin of the term social enterprise, and how the system can be changed, whilst touching on the subject of artificial intelligence.
I’d like to thank Tandem Social and Social Business City Barcelona for the opportunity to attend this full house conference.
Couldn’t see Professor Yunus in Barcelona? Find the insights & full event transcription below.
[Professor Muhammad Yunus] - Most of the time, people say these are utopian ideas. Good to read about them, but not possible in reality. And that is where my position comes in. It's very real. It is not only real, it is to be achieved in a very short time.
Why I did microcredit, and how the beginning of microcredit was, is a process [which] is important to understand.
I keep repeating that the poor may be poor, but they are not stupid. They understand what money means to them and how it can change their life. I have seen it in many villages, and the only controversy, in the end, is between me and the bankers. And that controversy is still continuing and has not died down. Although in the meantime, microcredit has spread all over the world.
We were invited, (back in 2007), to start a microcredit program in the United States. Until then, they believed it was impossible to do microcredit in the United States because they had tried and every time they had failed. And you can try a 1000 times more and you still fail, and I kept on saying that it can be done. “So why are we failing?” [they asked.] “For a very simple reason; you don't know how to do it, so do not blame the people for it,” [I responded.] Of course, this didn't make them very happy, so they challenged me to do it. “You find the money, and I will do it,” [I said.]
So I sent someone from Bangladesh to New York to set up a branch. He [the Bangladeshi worker] was shocked, [saying], “I have never been to the US, I don't know anything about the US.” [I replied], “but I am not sending you the US because you are an expert on the US. I am sending you there because you are an expert on Bangladesh. So forget about the US.” And I gave him a bit of advice before he left, “always remember when you start this; don't listen to anybody! They will give you so much advice on why it can not be done ‘this is not Bangladesh’, ‘you can't do this’ etc. Just do exactly what you are doing in Bangladesh.” And that helped him a lot. Now we have seven branches in New York, and other cities in the US too. 400,000 women, (we do not give loans to any men), are borrowers and the most beautiful [thing is], the highest loan, is $1500. You'd be amazed how these women are with their $1500 dollars, and how lucky they consider themselves when they got their first loan.
Financial services are like oxygen. We need it to breathe, without it we collapse. The absence of financial oxygen makes people collapse, makes people dysfunction, and we call them poor people. The moment they are connected to financial services, they become alive, they become active, they become creative. That is the story of microcredit.
The actual financial system is the root of many of the problems that we have created for ourselves.
It's a tricky time to be in. We are in a situation where the whole world is going up in flames: socially, economically and politically. It is rooted in the very concept of the capitalist system.
You can not pass a law to change it, it's not a matter of governmental action. It's a machine that sucks up wealth and sends it out to the sky to a very few people, that's all. It's a one way and a continuously one-way process. Can we make it a two-way process? What comes up, comes down, a circular process, can we do that? Can we do a one-way process, that all the wealth that is accumulated comes down and is shared? Can we do that? Of course, we can do that! For the simple reason that a human can do anything they want if they pay attention. It happens because we don't pay attention.
We created this system, we can un-create it, make it disappear, it's possible.
[It’s] just that we don't have so much time left. It's almost like a sinking ship. Either you abandon the ship and move to a safer ship or we get blown away.
If you are poor, you are poor in debt, very easy, very common. And so what can we do about it? There is the charity way; give money, but I wanted to do it in a different way, in a business way, money comes, works, and comes back down. So every time I see a problem, I create a business to solve it. So I created many different businesses: very common. What was uncommon, is that I never wanted to make any money out of it. [People say], "but it’s very strange, it is a business, you should make money!" I do this because I want to create a business solely focused on solving the problem… then comes the money. If I create a business to make money, I would look at the things where I can make money, and I am not solving people’s problems.
I feel that businesses should focus on the problem, so that problem gets solved, but money comes in. So these are the kind of businesses that I have created over the years. And I started calling them: Social Businesses. A non-dividend company to solve people’s problems. Then people say, "this is not a business, you are just confusing people." I say, “no, I am not confusing people, I am just creating a different kind of business, that's all.” And then I realised why this is controversial, and it's because [of] our economic system.
We have trained our life, and minds to believe that all people are driven by self-interest. That is the core of our economic system; human beings are driven by selfishness. We are trained as selfish people, so we became selfish people.
In the whole world, the capitalist system has put glasses on us with dollar signs or euros, [so] we just see euros everywhere. We have lost our own eyes. I say, “no, a human is not all selfishness.” It’s a combination of selfishness and selflessness. Both sides exist at the same time. And for each, you have to create a business. You can do both selfish businesses, (all for me), or selfless business, (all for the others and nothing for me). It's up to which one you want; one, or both.
[With] bi-focal glasses, you will see the dollar sign, but you will have a people layer, that sees people that we didn't see before.
Suppose [that in] the whole world, (just for imagination), all that exists is social businesses. Two things would happen. One, more of the world problems would be solved by the business itself. At the same time, less and less wealth will be centralised because the profit doesn't go anywhere. It's of benefit to the business itself. And it’s very important to do that because if you keep on going on the same road, you will lead to the same destination.
If you want to go to a new destination, you need to build new roads.
Did you see, what I have done, is build a new road, to help you to get to this new destination. Jump ship.
Jobs are not nature-based, humans are not born to work for somebody else, they are independent beings.
All human beings are independent creative unlimited persons. A job takes it away. The main mission of human life is to unleash your creative capacity. To discover yourself [and] who you are. A job denies you that. The capitalist system makes you believe that a job is the destiny of the human being; completely wrong!
Schools should not be producing job-ready people. That is a shameful statement. Schools should be preparing young people as life-ready people.
They create business ideas, we invest in them, and they will pass it on.
There are more and more young people coming every week, and not just in Bangladesh. I was invited to go to Italy, where 40% of the young people are unemployed. That's what the capitalist system does. These wonderful young people that are doing nothing, their mind gets frozen, “I don't know anything because I am unemployed.” Could we have done this in the caves? “I can not do anything because I am unemployed?” We would be dead! Because that theory freezes their mind. I say, “forget about that theory.”
Let's tell ourselves we are not job seekers, but we are entrepreneurs: and be entrepreneurs. The whole problem of unemployment is created by the concept of employment. If you do not have the concept of employment there is no unemployment.
Let's imagine that everybody is entrepreneurs; 100% entrepreneurs. Would there be wealth concentration? No, because we would pick up all the wealth ourselves. We don't give it to anybody else. You pick up yours; I pick up mine, she picks up hers. It's a sharing of wealth because everyone is picking up. There is no concentration.
Why does wealth concentration exist? Because we work for them. We are the machinery. We work for them, and they become super-wealthy. And then we complain that all the super-wealth is there. We are the ones that help them to do that. They don't do the work, we do all the work. And the financial system helps them to get them there. All I am saying is, “we have to build new roads.” These are things that came out of all of my experiences, and I am sharing it through my book and seeing if it makes sense to you.
After this statement that all people are entrepreneurs, people always tell me, "No, that's not true, some people might be entrepreneurs, but not all people. There is a special kind of quality they need to have. How do you know that all people are entrepreneurs?" [I respond], “I know it by heart; I don't need any evidence.” "But how do you know?" [they say.] “Through microcredit,” [I respond.]
All those 9 million people; if they can do that in Bangladesh, anybody can be an entrepreneur, and microcredit is all over the world. Nearly 300 million women show us that they can be an entrepreneur, do you need any more proof? So this is the point, we need to create a world of different nature, or it's going to crush us. And on top of that, (and that is the last point I wanted to make, it's something that worries me, and I wanted to share), is artificial intelligence.
Artificial intelligence is going to kill us. In the meaning that the machine can do better than a human being. If so, what is the role of the human being? What is left? Half a billion people will be unemployed in the next 15 years because artificial intelligence replaced their jobs. And the people tell me, “machines should work and human beings should enjoy. It’s the glory of human civilisation. They enjoy!” [I respond], “But I do not see any enjoyment here; I just see a lot of unemployed people. Ok, let them enjoy, but somebody should put food on their table. Who is going to put food on their table?” And they say, "you are missing the point. The government will provide a universal basic income." Ah so now I get it, the government should provide food so that they can enjoy.
I don't want to be part of a society where a human being massively becomes a society of beggars. I do not want to be a beggar. I am a creative being, I take care of myself, and I take care of the world, that is what I do. I don't want to be a beggar. So it's either this or you stop artificial intelligence. There is no other option.
Technology can be a blessing; technology can be a curse. Artificial intelligence is taking us to the curse. So if something is a curse, you must stop it today.
We figured out that human beings should be the masters of this planet. We don't want to make machines the masters of this planet. Artificial intelligence tells us that soon, AI will be more intelligent than a human being. Suppose it becomes ten times more intelligent than a human being; what is the relationship between the human being and AI? Very simple, to me, AI will look at us as if we are some kind of cockroaches on its planet. And it will hate us because we are messing up the whole world. We consume, we fight with each other, we make a mess, and all sorts of things. And then it will be fed up with us. And they tell someone to call the pest control department and say, “come and clean up this mess.” We are nobody, so this is the situation we are facing. So is there still time to think, to not make ourselves extinct before the end of the century?
About Professor Muhammad Yunus
Muhammad Yunus's vision is the total eradication of poverty from the world. 'Grameen', he claims, 'is a message of hope, a programme for putting homelessness and destitution in a museum so that one day our children will visit it and ask how we could have allowed such a terrible thing to go on for so long'.
This work is a fundamental rethink on the economic relationship between the rich and the poor, their rights and their obligations. The World Bank recently acknowledged that 'this business approach to the alleviation of poverty has allowed millions of individuals to work their way out of poverty with dignity'.
Credit is the last hope left to those faced with absolute poverty. That is why Muhammad Yunus believes that the right to credit should be recognised as a fundamental human right. It is this struggle and the unique and extraordinary methods he invented to combat human despair that Muhammad Yunus recounts here with humility and conviction. It is also the view of a man familiar with both Eastern and Western cultures on the failures and potential for good of industrial countries. It is an appeal for action: we must concentrate on promoting the will to survive and the courage to build in the first and most essential element of the economic cycle man.