Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus Promotes Social Business in Tunisia
Tunisia, March, 14 2013 -
Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus made his first visit to Tunisia this week to raise awareness of the social business concept he has championed for much of his career and its potential to reduce unemployment.
“I believe that we can say ‘goodbye’ to unemployment,” asserted Yunus in a press conference Wednesday. “There’s nothing wrong with human beings… There’s something wrong with the system, which creates unemployment.”
Job creation has been a constant talking point for Tunisian politicians in the country’s current political transition. Yet, two years after the revolution, which was fueled in part by economic grievances, unemployment remains at over 17%.
For Yunus and others, the social business concept may be the solution to unemployment and other economic ills in Tunisia and elsewhere in Africa.
Since 2011, the African Development Bank (AfDB) has been experimenting with ways to boost youth employment and entrepreneurship on the continent. Yunus’ visit to Tunisia, in fact, comes as the AfDB, in partnership with Yunus Social Business, is launching the Holistic Social Business Movement (HSBM) in Africa – a pilot program that will be implemented in Tunisia, Togo, and Uganda.
Its goals are to support entrepreneurship and establish social business incubators; build local capacity in social business; and most importantly create jobs.
In spite of its philanthropic nature, a social business is not a charity, stressed Yunus. In a charity, one gives away money without the expectation that it will come back to the benefactor. Conversely, in a social business, one invests money in an activity that has a specific philanthropic goal and expects a return on the investment.
But unlike a conventional business, a social business will then take the profit and reinvest it into the enterprise so that it can expand the scope of the social good it seeks to achieve in society. In such a way, the owner of a social business never reaps the monetary returns of his venture.
“Everything is for me, nothing for others… That’s the conventional business,” explained Yunus. “When we do it, ‘everything is for others, nothing for me,’ that’s the social [business].”
In a conventional business, positive consequences – job creation, for example – are only a “by-product,” he went on, not the “intention.”
The ethos of social business was what shaped Nobel Prize-winning microfinance organization Grameen Bank, which Yunus founded in the 1970s in his home country of Bangladesh.
The goal of making small, non-collateral loans to Bangladesh’s poor was not to wring a profit for his bank, but rather to create entrepreneurial opportunities at even the lowest end of the socio-economic scale.
“We have to unleash massive amounts of entrepreneurial ability that is hidden inside of human beings, and I believe all human beings are entrepreneurs,” said the Nobel Prize laureate.
Providing the opportunity for people to have such agency in their lives can even prevent political conflicts from ballooning, Yunus said.
“Political tensions… happen because of the frustrations among people. People don’t see the future, don’t see what exists beyond today,” he said. “So you have to create actions.”
Professor Yunus addresses a crowd of students, local investors, and members of international development agencies at IHEC Carthage University
“[People] don’t expect a miracle overnight,” Yunus continued. However, just showing them that efforts to better their lives are underway may help ease frustrations.
“If [I] see processes begun and [I] see hope… then I can wait. I can see something is happening somewhere and I can wait for my turn,” he stated.
If the HSBM is successful, the AfDB aims to scale up the program and ultimately implement it throughout the rest of the continent.
At Wednesday’s “National Conference on Social Business in Tunisia,” held at IHEC Carthage University, Yunus sought to convey the promise of such a program. Young students, investors, entrepreneurs, business incubators, and other potential stakeholders in AfDB’s social business scheme filled the audience at Yunus’ address.
The HSBM is a two-year program and receives funding from the AfDB and a grant from the Japanese government.