Transcript from an interview with Muhammad Yunus, 2006 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, on 12 December 2006. Interviewer is Marika Griehsel, freelance journalist.
First of all, welcome to this interview.
Muhammed Yunus: Thank you.
I’m very honoured to meet you. What did you think when the phone call came?
Muhammed Yunus: Oh, it was… well, mind boggling. You don’t imagine it will happen. Although there are a lot of talks every year that I may be getting the Nobel Prize, but talking about it, speculating about it is something, you always have lots of question marks about it, but suddenly it happened. It’s tremendously different than what speculation gives you, so immediately the whole country was electrified. A flood gate of enthusiasm suddenly opened up, excitement opened up, people were rushing to my house, hundreds and thousands of people within an hour appearing at my doorstep and all the newspaper people, the televisions and the cameras … You can’t believe that people can rush to such a situation with such a speed.
What do you think changed? Why this year and not the year before?
Muhammed Yunus: Because you’re lazy. You didn’t take the decision before. No. I don’t know how the comparison with the candidates, how you do that and I don’t blame them. There are so many capable people in the world that have to be considered.
Do you think the prize has changed in its character, if you look way back? I mean, this year, a bank and you and your work, you know? What has it to do with peace, some people ask.
Muhammed Yunus: Well, this is not the first peace prize I got. I got the Sydney Peace Prize way back in the ’90s, so somebody could have asked why Sydney gives this peace prize to a banker. I had the Indira Gandhi Peace Prize from India. Again, that was the same question, it’s a peace prize. Recently I had the Seoul Peace Prize. Again, that’s a peace prize because poverty is a threat, no matter which way you look at it, a threat to the peace. You can’t leave people poor and live happily thereafter. You can’t. The poor people will not let you sleep peacefully because they are in a desperate situation. When you are desperate, you disturb peace. When a country is desperately poor and their next door neighbour is very rich, I don’t think these desperately poor people in this country will just sit there and respect your prosperity and don’t do anything, they will try to get in and use your capacity to help them or be involved in whatever prosperity you have, and you may not like that, their intrusion into your peaceful life.
So this is what must be seen as a threat to the peace, like we talk about terrorism. The breeding ground for terrorism would be abject poverty. If you are poor, you can hire anybody for any terrorist activity for a little money because he has nothing to lose, he’ll easily convince that yes, why don’t I do that? And the logic of terrorism makes sense to him which will not make sense to a well-off family, for example, so as long as you keep the breeding ground, nobody is safe, so it’s good to address the breeding ground so that there is no breeding ground available and you reduce the chances of disturbing the peace.
The microcredits have often been used for women. What do you do … the connection between peace and giving individual opportunities to women, particularly? How do you see that?
Muhammed Yunus: Poverty, again. If we want to help poor people out, one way to do that is to help them explore and use their own capability. The human being is full of capacity, full of capability, it’s a wonderful creation, but many people never get a chance to explore that, never know that she or he has that, because society never allowed to unwrap that gift, so the gift remains packed and you never know that he ever had it. Many people die without ever knowing that he or she had so much potential, so much gift into her, so microcredit allows persons to unleash a little bit of it, explore a little bit and if you explore a little bit of it and you are successful, you are charmed by your own capacity. You want to explore more, so gradually, as you explore, you move out of poverty step by step, so this is what happens with microcredit. Microcredit helps people get out of poverty.
When we saw we are giving microcredit both to men and women, because I wanted to make sure that 50%, half of the borrowers in my work are women and this is a kind of protesting as the conventional banks where they reject women. In many, many countries the percentage of women borrower is far down compared to the percentage of men borrowers. In Bangladesh, the women percentage in the banks among the borrowers, not even 1% of the borrowers they are providing, so we thought we should address that issue and in our programme, 50% of the borrowers should be women, so that’s what we did. And then we saw, after we achieved that, money going to the family through women brought so much more benefit to the family compared to the money going to the family through men. Women took good care of their children as their income increased, so we focused on women. As a result, out of the 7 million borrowers that we have, 97% of them are women and it works beautifully. All objective is still help the family to get out of poverty, so if you bring in women into the picture, if you empower women, it happens faster than it happens the other way.
Can the Nobel Prize help to put this issue even higher up on the political agenda internationally, as we see so many billions of dollars spent on creating war and war machinery that is currently happening on our planet?
Muhammed Yunus: It’s very much possible and it’s happening because the Nobel Peace Prize is something which takes you way above the normal level of activity. You become very visible and your voice gets heard everywhere. Even if you whisper, everybody hears you because your voice is magnified many, many times. It’s a prize unlike other prizes where everybody’s interested, it’s not just a section of the society or one part of the society. Everybody puts the Nobel Prize, Nobel Peace Prize, in a very special category that other prize cannot match, so with the prize coming to me, I get that status automatically, whether I deserve it, I don’t deserve it, but that’s what I am, so immediately people want to understand what is this microcredit? Why aren’t we doing more of it?
If it is the way it is, through people asking question, and about the resources – where do we get the resources? Resources are plenty but we are using it in many wrong directions. I said if we were trying to address the terrorism, terrorism cannot be overcome by military means. You can’t just take military action to destroy terrorism. It can be suppressed for a while but if you want to eliminate terrorism, you have to address the poverty issue, so instead of putting money in the war efforts, which we do, billions of dollar in war effort buying guns and buying weapons, why don’t we use this money to help people get out of poverty? Probably it is a better strategy, we will achieve what we want to achieve as a peaceful world and peaceful nations.
If I, as an individual, or a group of people in this country or any other countries, would like to contribute in any way and has some surplus to invest, what can we do to help?
Muhammed Yunus: Two things. One is to support microcredit programmes wherever they exist or wherever they want. If it is in Africa that you want to support, if you have a favourite country that you want to support, that’s possible, trying to find, and we can provide information about that. The other one is more powerful, would be a more general kind of thing, support social businesses. Invest in social businesses. Social businesses are businesses where you want to invest money to achieve a social objective, like overcome poverty, like bringing financial facilities to the poor people, it’s a society objective. Empowering women is a social objective so we’ll invest this money into empowering women in a business way so that that money comes back again. It’s not a charity, it’s not given and never seen back again. Social business in every shape and size is a business but I’m not doing it to make money for myself. I’m doing it to reach out to people, solve the social problems, solve an economic problem, like I want to bring safe drinking water to the community where it doesn’t exist and I run it as a business and people get their drinking water, I run it as a business so every year I don’t have to go around passing round a hat to collect money, because as a business it generates its own money and it continues, so your contribution and your collaboration, you can pool this money and support a social business. It could be health care programme, it could be environment programme or whatever.
Then my last question will be you talk about a social business. Why can’t we see the bigger corporations in the world take that responsibility, considering the amount of surplus that they have?
Muhammed Yunus: They’re welcome. To begin with, without making them feel this is a threat to them, many of these big corporations have foundations windows. They have their own foundations. Their foundation money can be invested in social businesses very easily because, after all, foundation is created to give away money and good causes and instead of giving away, it’s much better to give it in the social business so that it stays on and become bigger and bigger each year because you are putting in more money and this money is coming back so your fund becomes bigger and bigger and, if you are impressed by your result that you achieve, you can put more money into social business yourself, create a company in your name, company’s name as a subsidiary, but as a social business, meaning that up front you are declaring that you are not interested, you are not creating this company to make money out of it, you are creating this company to address a particular problem that you look at and you’re using your business talent to address that social problem. If all the businesses in the world could use their business talent to address social problem, address the economic problem of the poor, address the economic problem of the bottom 50% of the population of the world, this world would be free from poverty much faster than we can ever imagine.
Does it give you hope for the future?
Muhammed Yunus: It does because I see it’s possible and human being are, after all, the good being. It’s not something they mean harm to each other but they get stuck in the social institutions and structures that we have built and they push in the wrong direction.
Like in our conceptual film work, we created something called business which is the centre of the capitalist world, business and the free market, but then we said you ran business, only mission you have is to make some money, so you profit. That’s where we go wrong. Why people have to always maximise profit? Human being is much bigger than just making money. It’s not a money making machine, so I’m saying why don’t they give other options? That I can invest money, I can run business to do good and I enjoy it and I get excited about reaching out to people, touching people’s life, leaving behind a signature on this one, that I did this, and people admired that I did this and I like that, so why you stopping me from that? They said if you want to do that, go to the charity window, this is not business, I said no, I want to run it as a business and I can do that and I can solve it and I can become more powerful business by reaching out to those and I want to solve those water problem, I want to solve the disease problem, I want to solve the medicine problem, I want to solve the housing problem of the poor, otherwise nobody will come to them. I want to come to them and help them as a business entity.
So this can be done. This is what I feel very confidence about because ultimately this will happen and through my credit, what we have done, I see poor people are getting out of poverty every day, their children are getting educated, very capable young people just like any other young people, so with all those things possible, we can see that we can create a poverty free world and I see a world someday, where only place we’ll see poverty will be in the museums, poverty museums. That’s where we’ll go, our children will go, our grandchildren will go and see poverty, only there. Nowhere in the world they will see real poverty in action. It will be gone, it will be eliminated.
I love that vision. Thank you so much for this time.
Muhammed Yunus: Thank you.
Interview with 2006 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Muhammad Yunus, 12 December 2006. The interviewer is Marika Griehsel, freelance journalist. Nobelprize.org apologizes for the slight deterioration in the sound quality during the second half of this interview.
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