Professor Muhammad Yunus, a Nobel laureate who is considered the founding father of microfinance, urged an assembled crowd at the Royal University of Phnom Penh yesterday to start thinking about creating so-called social businesses.
“Charity money goes, and does wonderful work, but it doesn’t come back,” said Yunus, who won the Peace Prize in 2006 for his work in fighting poverty. But if turned into a venture, “money goes and comes back. It becomes very powerful.”
Yunus, a silver-haired man whose stage presence and energy belies the fact that he is in his 70s, came to Phnom Penh to attend a board meeting of Danone Communities, a social business connected to the France-based multinational dairy giant Danone.
NGOs, students and members of the business community gathered in an auditorium on the university's Russian Boulevard campus to hear Yunus speak. Midway through the session, attendees broke out into groups to toss around their own ideas.
Having earned his PhD in economics, Yunus taught briefly in the US before returning to Bangladesh to work at Chittagong University in 1972.
In 1983, he founded Grameen Bank, offering microloans to Bangladesh’s poorest. Today, the bank has eight and half million clients, and microlending models replicating Grameen's operate worldwide, though critics have arisen to question the extent to which the practice eradicates poverty.
Describing his basic method to the audience, Yunus said he looked at the way banks worked, and just did the opposite: “People should not go to banks,” he said. “Banks should go to the people."