The much anticipated talk with Dr. Yunus was the key highlight of the opening session at the Partnerships against Poverty 2013. Dr. Yunus began microfinance in Bangladesh around 37 years back, starting initially as a lender to the poor, then becoming a guarantor to enable the poor to borrow from banks, and then finally setting up an institution to provide access to finance to the poor. Dr Yunus shared that, in his experience, women were better borrowers for credit but the microfinance-women nexus is something he had to try hard to forge. In the beginning, his aim was to service at least 50% women but even getting to 50% was a daunting task- it took Grameen Bank 6 years to achieve this milestone. Today, 97% of Grameen Bank clients are women. Dr Yunus shared that when women borrowed there was a greater impact on household development as compared to when men borrowed money. Moreover, as women were more focused on ensuring that their children develop, they invested much more on their future. Dr. Yunus believes that the success the women borrowers of Grameen Bank have played a major role in the success of Grameen Bank.
Dr. Yunus stressed on the importance of creating entrepreneurs and said that the inability to create entrepreneurs is one of the biggest failings of the conventional financial service providers. He shared that all human beings are entrepreneurs but the role of the MFIs is to help clients unleash that entrepreneur that exists within themselves. Moreover, Dr. Yunus shared the concept of the social businesses, which according to him are non-dividend companies set up to solve human problems using creative capacity to address the problems being addressed. He shared that youth unemployment is a big problem in Bangladesh (as in many other parts of the world) but it can be addressed through social business – he shared the concept of the Youth Entrepreneur Fund which launches the youth into entrepreneurship. The entrepreneur gets an interest free loan which he/she has to return in 3 years. He said the basic difference between a social business and philanthropy is that in the former the money comes back while in the latter money doesn’t come back. Dr Yunus further added that being able to catalyze change is the biggest benefit of social businesses – while making money makes you happy, making others happy makes you ‘superhappy’.
Dr Yunus ended his talk with the message that “we will make it”, he was referring primarily to the Millennium Development Goals (MGDs). He shared with a lot of pride that Bangladesh had actually halved poverty in 2013 (2 years before the deadline for the 1st MGD), and is poised to meet all 8 MGDs by the year 2015. He said that Bangladesh had been deemed a ‘basket case’, but if Bangladesh can do it so can other countries! He urged all delegates to ensure that 2015 ends with meeting the MGDs!