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Muhammad Yunus on a New Kind of Capitalism

A charismatic visionary, Muhammad Yunus believes every person can play a part in reducing poverty – not by writing out a cheque to a charity or through hard-headed capitalism, but using a model that lies between the two: social business.

These are the words of Muhammad Yunus, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Bangladeshi economist world-famous for starting the microfinance movement. That movement is just part of Yunus’s mission to ‘put poverty in the museums’. A charismatic visionary, as much at ease with global leaders as he is with the poorest of street beggars, Professor Yunus believes every person can play a part in reducing poverty. And they can do this not by writing out a cheque to a charity or through hard-headed capitalism, but by means of a model that lies somewhere between the two. He calls this model social business.

As Professor Yunus likes to explain it, social business isn’t just about helping the poor – it can also help to change us. When we put on ‘social business glasses’ we start looking at the world and thinking about it in new ways. We bring fresh insight to our conventional profit-maximising companies and become more multi-dimensional, happier human beings in the process.

So what is a social business? It is one whose owners are motivated to solve a social problem such as unemployment. The difference between this and the more familiar social enterprise model is that the owners of a social business do not make money for themselves. Profits are ploughed back into the company instead of being paid out as dividends. And unlike a charity or NGO which has to rely on donations to keep running, a social business is profit-making and therefore financially sustainable.

Scale for Professor Yunus is all-important. In Colombia, for example, Yunus Social Business (YSB) financed a social business that has created a network of healthcare providers who offer 10,000 users, including the poorest of the poor, access to affordable and prompt healthcare. In Haiti, in order to address the spread of infectious diseases YSB set up a business to commercialize locally produced disinfectant. Now there are 100 points of sale that give 500,000 Haitians access to cleaning products at one-third of the usual market cost.

Since 2011, Yunus Social Business has supported 20 social businesses in seven different countries, mentored over 200 entrepreneurs and impacted over 10,000 custome



Caroline Daniel

Editor of the FT Weekend

Editor of the FT Weekend who previously ran the FT’s op-ed page during the financial crisis, including overseeing the newspaper’s Future of Capitalism series

Muhammad Yunus

Social entrepreneur, banker, economist

Professor Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank, which he founded, were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 “for their efforts to create economic and social development from below.” Since then, Professor Yunus has focused on spreading and implementing the concept of “social business” — companies created for social good rather than private profit — through Yunus Social Business – Global Initiatives. Professor Yunus is one of only seven in history — along with Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela — to receive all three of the United States’ highest honours awarded to civilians. In 2012, Fortune magazine recognized Professor Yunus as “one of the 12 greatest entrepreneurs of our time.”