Sunday, September 20th, the University of Virginia hosted a lecture by Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus.  I was lucky enough to be in the audience, sitting on several feet away from the legendary man.

Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, Yunus is world renowned for his founding of the Grameen Bank, a micro-lending system which has subsequently lifted millions of people out of poverty.   His compassion and humility, however, are what warrant him to be held in such high esteem.  “Doing little made people so happy, why not do more?” Yunus remarked modestly in response to the rapid growth of his fame.   He has since expanded his micro-lending model and spearheaded new projects.

Like most micro-finance systems, the Grameen Bank has been critiqued for not reaching the poorest of the poor.  In response to this accusation, Yunus designed a program which would provide beggars specifically with loans.  Currently there are around 12 000 beggars in the program and over 16 000 former beggars have risen from the extremest poverty and no longer have the need to beg.

Yunus’ current goals are set at establishing social businesses.  In social business there is non-loss, non-dividend and, unlike with charities, money is recycled.  Yunus shared about his joint venture with the Danone, a French yogurt company.  Danone has agreed to add vitamins to the yogurt it produces and sell the yogurt for cheap (essentially making no additional profit from this deal).  Those children who consume this vitamin loaded yogurt just twice a week should have their health restored within a year.

“All humans are born entrepreneurs” was Yunus’ primary claim throughout his speech.  As he encourages his borrowers, he encouraged those in the audience to change their mentality and to create their own projects and social businesses.

Perhaps the most inspiring point of Yunus’ lecture was probed by a question from an audience member and is a bit ironic.  When asked what part of his education was the most beneficial in helping design the Grameen Bank, Yunus responded “not knowing anything about banking.”  Essentially, it was the not having  information or, more importantly, the not having pre-conceived ideas of how the bank should run that allowed Yunus to develop such a successful micro-lending system.  “I just did the opposite of conventional banks.”

Today, we tend to think that we must have great education and specialization to make a mark in the world.  Yunus epitomizes how faulty that assumption is; each person can make a difference.

Click here to watch Yunus’ full address.

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