In a plenary entitled “Social Businesses: Creating Solutions for Social Problems,” during the Microcredit Summit 2013: Partnerships against Poverty at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) on October 9-11, 2013, prominent figures on social business discussed how social problems can turn into opportunities to provide creative solutions for stakeholders. Two of the speakers were Professor Muhammad Yunus, the 2006 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in microcredit and Dr. Jaime Aristotle B. Alip, Founder and Managing Director of CARD MRI, the 2008 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for Public Service.
Alip discussed the core of social businesses: innovation of suitable programs and transformation of people’s lives. Starting from a twenty-peso bill and a typewriter, the non-government organization he started in 1986 has now grown to 12 different institutions that help uplift the lives of poor women and their families. These institutions provide social development services like microcredit, micro insurance, health protection, disaster relief, educational support, marketing and livelihood development.
More than 1,000 microfinance and social development practitioners from all over the world were all ears as Yunus and Alip shared best practices on social businesses. Professor Yunus, who is also the Founder of the Grameen Bank—Bangladesh and is considered the Father of Microfinance, noted in his speech that those who engage in social businesses should let go of the conventional idea that businesses should only make profit. He shared that the success of social businesses can be attributed to selflessness based on his experiences with the Yunus Social Business (YSB). YSB helps build and nurture social businesses around the world through advisory services. It is currently assisting companies, governments, foundations, and non-government organizations in Haiti, Albania, Colombia, Tunisia, Uganda, Brazil, and India.
Over the past years, Professor Yunus has taken the experience and expertise gained from the success of Grameen Bank to introduce a new business model—Social Business. A social business is a non-dividend company created to solve a social problem. Like an NGO, it has a social mission and like a firm it generates its own revenues to cover costs. Investors may recoup their investment. All profits are reinvested for growth and innovation, or to seed new social business ventures.
We were fortunate to be given the chance for a one on one interview with Prof. Yunus, one of world’s 50 most influential figures:
TDM: You introduced the concept of social business into the economic framework. How are you able to convince government and big business to believe and support social businesses?
Yunus: I’m not actually trying to convince anybody so I don’t go to them to convince. I tell what I do and explain to them why I do. And since I talk about it in conferences and whenever I meet people like the press, I answer questions when asked about it. Someone suggested that instead of repeating my answers why don’t I put them down in a book containing all the answers that I have given. So that’s how my book came about on social business. Actually, two books on social business. First book was written to explain and then more questions came so I gave more answers in the second book. So people read and get excited about it. Others are moved to want to do something about it. Government come and approach us to find out what they can do. Businesses approach us too and ask what they can do. So that’s how a relationship begins with the companies. So I only respond to people who are asking. I don’t ask or go tell them what to do. I explain to them what I do during business conferences. They hear my stories and I answer all the questions and then they respond by saying “Hey, that’s a great idea. Why don’t we do something about it?” So books and conferences. Those are the ways I communicate to them. And because of these invitations, it has resulted to a lot of joint ventures with big companies and in various countries. Right now, we work directly in seven countries: Albania, Brazil, Haiti, Colombia, Tunisia, Uganda, India. We set up social businesses in these countries.
TDM: So you work a lot with private sector?
Yunus: I don’t like to use the word private sector because it means we are making money.
We are not into making money. And we are not private sector, not government. NGOs are charity organizations. We are a business organization, social business sector or civil society sector. Not private sector because you get the impression that we are making money.
TDM: Is it bad to make money? Must one forget about profits when they start a social business?
Yunus: No, no, no. It’s not wrong to make money. Again, it’s like you have a box of tools to help people, help society, change society. You have many ideas in that box. When I talk about social business I am not asking you to take out any of these tools and throw it away.
I am not disturbing the box. What I am saying is there is another tool and if you want to use it, you can put it in your box. So I am not saying that business is bad. Profit is bad.
What I am saying is do whatever you have to do but here is a situation where you can think of addressing it in another way. It’s a different way of solving the problems of the world.
(to be continued)
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