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5 Changemaker Traits We Learnt from Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Muhammad Yunus

Photo of Nobel Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus

Part of the Chua Thian Poh Annual Distinguished Speaker Series 2017, the esteemed Nobel Laureate graced by Singapore to share on “Redesigning Economics to Redesign the World” at Nanyang Technological University this month.

When it comes to the landscape of social enterprises in Asia, few literature can provide a comprehensive study without the famed Grameen Bank and its visionary founder, Professor Muhammad Yunus. As Bangladesh massive social business on microcredit and finance, it empowers the impoverished with small, collateral-free loans, becoming “an institution that would lend to those that had nothing.”

Here are 5 things that you don't want to miss from this epic changemaker.

1. Dream Big, Start Small

At the talk, Professor Yunus shared that he started small with the notion of “making (him)self useful for at least one human being, even for a day.” This thought and belief enabled him to see poverty-stricken villages as good ground for opportunity to arise. Going forth to make use of his economic knowledge, he went on to liaise with banks to facilitate money-lending to the poor.

His solution initially started as a simple concept - loaning money in place of loansharks and their ridiculous interest rates that propelled poverty cycle to run in deeper. This simple yet bold move birthed forth a revolutionary social enterprise.

2. Don’t Let Age-Old Problems Scare You

Loansharking comes off as a seemingly hopeless, age-old problem. As it has been a society ill since the beginning of civilisation, it is indeed strange to even think that man will come up with a solution today. However, what started out as a humble, novel plan eventually became the antidote. This antidote has been such a new concept that the world had to come up with a new name: micro credit. By peeling off capes of entrenchment that history layered on, man has the power to redesign and create new possibilities.

More often than not, a changemaker is wired to challenge the status quo to ask: "Why not?". Knowing that we are not the only ones with this mindset, we are further motivated to continue trying new solutions for old problems.

3. Profit Is AN Incentive, But It Is Not THE Incentive.

The conventional business model stems from a profit-maximising foundation. However, it should not the sole determinant in decision-making. Other rewarding factors make it worth to run the race, for the assumption that human beings are driven only by self-interest envelopes many flaws.

On the other side of the spectrum, charity models face limitations as well. The financial dependence on donations and grants are often inconsistent and unpredictable, making it difficult to execute sustainable projects. Professor Yunus mentioned that ironically some charities spend more time in raising funds than creating social impact, an observation that underlines the need for stronger financial independence.

By installing a business engine behind social objectives, social businesses embrace both industries and marries the yin with the yang to create sustainable social impact. This is one of our most important points to share with our participants whenever we run our social entrepreneurship courses.

4. Remember, Difficulties are Opportunities in Work Clothes

Professor Yunus participated in various social projects,and most of them come from the seemingly ordinary. It takes a second look and a prolonged gaze to see the unseen in our everyday lives. A mass production of affordable, nutritious yogurt help to improve the diet of the poor at the bottom of the pyramid. This also spurs on numerous positive externalities, such as a healthier workforce.

Another example comes from ugly vegetables in France. Good, edible potatoes that come in weird shapes are undesirable for factories, grocery stores and restaurants, for they require certain dimensions to manufacture products like french fries. This spun an opportunity for these rejected potatoes. Instead of throwing them away, a potato soup recipe was crafted with them as the main ingredient. It gradually became a popular dish to feed many others.

5. Not a job seeker but a job creator

One of the most memorable points that Professor Yunus raised was his conviction towards the myth of unemployment. Contrary to what the world thinks today, he acutely points and challenges the seemingly “unemployed”, quoting the example of an illiterate mother taking $30 to start a business. That hardly leaves any young, able undergraduate any excuse or reason to be idle couch potatoes.

Way before the system of job-seeking, resumes and employment took precedence, we were go-getters, problem solvers and we didn’t work for anybody else. When we walk out to face problems as a solver, we open new doors as a job creator.

On the same note, our MTC programmes for persons with disabilities are always crafted with the end in mind. In order for our graduates to be industry-ready, we discuss and seek to find a suitable curriculum that would take them to greater heights.


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