Banking Revolution’s Father Lends his Ideas on How to End all Poverty

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Inside a private conference room at Microsoft, top executives leaned around the table, eyes and ears fixed on a small, soft-spoken visitor from Bangladesh.

He might not be recognized on the street, but to people dreaming up the next great idea to change the world, Muhammad Yunus is a rock star.

One year after he won the Nobel Peace Prize, Yunus came to the Seattle area Tuesday to share his vision for uniting technology and business with a social mission.

He called the information revolution “the most powerful thing that ever happened to mankind,” but he said the fruits of that revolution largely have bypassed the world’s poor: “The technology has not been designed for them.”

Yunus appealed to Microsoft’s thought leaders to help change that.

The man who turned the concept of banking on its head said poverty stems from flawed concepts, such as the idea that only people with money should be able to borrow more of it.

Yunus, 67, developed the system of microcredit, helping poor people improve their standard of living by using tiny loans to start businesses. Since giving out its first loans in 1983, the Grameen Bank he founded has reached more than 7 million borrowers who would have no access to credit through traditional banks. About 97 percent of them are women.

“The world runs with money,” he said. “You need a dollar to catch a dollar, and no one gives you the first dollar.”

Yunus said he also wants to change the notion that business exists to maximize profits.

“I think that’s a shame because in this theory, they have actually insulted human beings,” he said. “Money-making is a very important part of human beings, but human beings are much bigger than that.”

Yunus advocated linking business and philanthropy in a new model called “social business.”

The idea is hitting a vein among the West Coast’s new breed of socially minded entrepreneurs, said former top Microsoft executive Paul Maritz, who is chairman of the Grameen Foundation, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit that expands Yunus’ model outside Bangladesh.

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Source: Seattle Times (link opens in a new window)