After receiving an honorary doctorate from Carleton, Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus told a packed audience that education, curiousity and selflessness are the driving forces behind his success in using small loans to curb poverty.
Foreign dignitaries, community members, international development leaders and Carleton staff, faculty, students and alumni were present to hear Yunus’ convocation address on Sept. 1, when he spoke about the need to rethink capitalism.
“We are so busy being selfish (in business), we’ve forgotten about the selfless part,” said Yunus.
Yunus’ interest in finding a solution to poverty began when he taught economics at a Bangladesh university and began noticing the terrible poverty around him.
“I realized these economic theories have no meaning in the lives of people outside the classroom,” he told the crowd.
Yunus started visiting villages in the 1970s to see how he could put his economics knowledge to use. In one village, he discovered that 42 people were in debt for only $27.
“Suddenly it came to my mind, I can solve this myself,” he said. “Why don’t I just give them the $27?”
These loans were the creation of the modern microcredit concept. Yunus continued arranging small loans for the poor with local banks, but saw increased hesitation from the institutions about working with poverty-stricken individuals.
“So I said, ‘Forget about the bank. Why don’t we set up a bank for ourselves?’” he recalled.
Founded in 1983, the Grameen Bank, started offering loans to the poor to help them set up small businesses. Twenty-seven years later, the borrower-owned bank has 8.3 million customers in Bangladesh alone, 97 per cent of them women.
The Grameen Bank also gives education loans and Yunus spoke of the importance of a university education in eradicating poverty.
At the ceremony, Carleton President Roseanne O’Reilly Runte announced the creation of an annual 12-week internship with the Grameen Bank for a Carleton global politics student. Also starting this year, is a new concentration in international development management offered in the MBA program.
Sonja Bata, chairman of the Batawa Development Corporation who was in attendance for the ceremony, said she admires Carleton’s commitment to providing students with a unique and international experience.
“We have to become socially responsible and it’s up to the younger generation to change and find new, innovative ways of serving society,” said Bata.
Carleton student Andrew Foote was also inspired by Yunus’ words.
“It’s just neat to hear someone talk who’s so valued for an idea that he came up with so long ago, and who is still coming up with ideas and innovations today,” he said.
The honorary degree ceremony was one of several events Yunus participated in on campus. He also spoke with graduate students and faculty at a dialogue hosted by the Sprott School of Business and the Sprott Centre for Social Enterprise (SCSE-CSES).
“His work is contagious,” said Francois Brouard, director of SCSE-CSES. “It’s important he was here because the more people who hear about his work, the better it will be for the community and the world.”
Meanwhile, Yunus closed his convocation address on a hopeful note, saying he would like to see the end of huge bank profits, dubious loan centres and pawn shops, in favour of socially responsible business.
“We should make poverty museums,” he said, prompting cheers from the audience.