Change the Mindset, Change the World: Muhammad Yunus – from Professor to Banker to Nobel Peace Prize Winner

I recently had the privilege of sitting in the audience at GA Tech listening to Muhammad Yunus tell the story of how he went from a college professor in Bangladesh to launching the concept of microfinance.  Professor Yunus and the organization he founded, Grameen Bank, were joint recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for their work in creating a banking system to “create economic and social development from below”. 

In 1976, after unsuccessful attempts to convince the bank to make loans to the poor, Yunus made a personal loan of $27 – not $27 to one person, but divided among 42 people.   He was paid back in full.  This was the start of creating a credit system that defied conventional wisdom by making small loans to the very poor, without requiring collateral and focusing primarily on women borrowers.  Officially launched in 1983, Grameen Bank currently loans more than $100 million each month to poor people to finance businesses and college educations.  Grameen Bank is owned by the depositors, who share in its profits and sit on the board.  Believing that “poverty is not created by the person, it is created by the system - concepts, policies, institutions” Yunus started a new system that has spawned more than 250 institutions in nearly 100 countries operating microfinance programs based on Grameen’s model.  With a nearly 100% repayment rate, approximately 97% of Grameen’s 8 million borrowers are women.  Yunus proudly declared that while the giant financial institutions were failing and being bailed out, the Grameen Bank in New York City was flourishing. 

Professor Yunus’ latest book, “Building Social Business” describes his perspective of finding a problem and creating a business to solve it.  Yunus has started more than 40 of these “social businesses” and large corporations have joined in the movement.  Many joint ventures continue to be launched under the premise of “business for a purpose”.  Danone produced fortified yogurt that fought malnutrition and BASF distributes mosquito nets to help prevent malaria.  In Bangladesh, where 100 million in Bangladesh aren’t connected to the grid, Grameen Shakti was launched as non-profit enterprise that has enabled hundreds of thousands of rural poor to purchase solar energy systems, and has provided employment and launched entrepreneurial businesses, many of which are run by women.  (See this cool video on how they are doing this.) In the quest for a “world without poverty” Grameen is also trying to bring social business to Haiti. 

In describing his attempts to persuade conventional bankers, he said “the whole struggle was the mindset.”  If we don’t first shift the thinking, the perspectives, then we can’t change behaviors, foster innovation or create new solutions.  Yunus has the mindset that we can have a “world without poverty” where poverty would only be found in museums.  “I never planned to run a bank” said Yunus, but “circumstances push you toward the paths you take.”  Choose your paths wisely. 


For an archived video of the GA Tech presentation:




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