Muhammad Yunus, Creating a World Without Poverty; Social Business and the Future of Capitalism (New York: Public Affairs, 2007), 261pp.
"No one who cares about humanity," writes Muhammad Yunus, "is satisfied with a world in which a few hundred million people enjoy access to all the resources of the planet, while billions more struggle to survive." But that's our world. Yunus cites one study that concluded that in the year 2000, "the richest 1 percent owned 40 percent of the world's assets, and the richest 10 percent owned 85 percent. By contrast, the bottom half of the world's population owned barely 1 percent of the planet's assets."
This disparity of resource distribution is wrong in practice, says Yunus. With globalized capitalism devouring diminishing resources, it's unsustainable; it also threatens global security. But extreme poverty is wrong in principle, too, because it deprives billions of human beings of the most basic of all human rights, the right to live a decent life. For over thirty years, Muhammad Yunus has worked with remarkable creativity, perseverance and vision to rectify these stubborn inequities. Most people know him as the founder of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. Today the Grameen Bank gives collateral free micro-loans to 7 million of the poorest of the poor in Bangladesh (97% of whom are women). Since its inception they have made loans totaling $6 billion, with a repayment rate of 99%. Yunus tells this story in his autobiographical bestseller Banker to the Poor; Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty (1999, 2003).
His newest book continues the story of the many and latest permutations of the Grameen vision to eradicate poverty. This includes a stable of twenty-five Grameen replicants that specialize in everything from solar energy and internet kiosks to fish ponds, textiles, cell phone ladies, and livestock breeding. But all these are mere "stepping stones" in Yunus's fertile imagination. The focus of his newest book is what he calls "social business." While normal businesses must focus on profit-maximization, and can even be sued by shareholders if they don't, a "social business" is what Yunus calls a "non loss, non-dividend" business whose primary objective is some social benefit. A social business competes in the market place with every other business, it must cover its costs, and it reinvests profits back into the company. This is a far more radical idea than mere corporate social responsibility, which in his mind tends to window-dressing and has an inherent conflict of interest between the requirement to maximize profit and the intention to do good.
Sound crazy? Well, read this book and its extended case study of how Grameen partnered with Groupe Danone of France to create what Yunus calls "the world's very first consciously designed multinational social business," launched in 2006. This was followed by Grameen's eye care hospitals. He thus envisions in social businesses a "giant leap" forward for addressing poverty in a scalable, replicable way. "Social business," he argues, "is the missing piece of the capitalist system." They do what government, NGOs, charity, and multi-lateral organizations like the World Bank can never do. Yunus is the quintessential dreamer—his wish list for the world of 2050 has nineteen bullet points; but read this book and his previous one and you'll also see that he's the consummate doer.