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Building Social Business: Rekindling the idea of commerce

 article about Building Social Business: Rekindling the idea of commerce
2017-10-23 04:19:56
It was a dusky winter day of 2001 when I met Nobel Laureate Dr Muhammad Yunus at his Grameen office in Dhaka. The timing was fixed through internet communication before I left for Bangladesh and it was my first meeting with the revolutionary banker to the poor. Our interaction started with goodwill messages and slowly we went into the content.

It was the month of Ramadan (Ramjan) and Professor Yunus was fasting. Nonetheless he offered me a cup of tea and some biscuits. I carried a Gamocha and a collection of my newspaper articles for him. At the end of our long conversation, he gifted me some books. Mostly in English (few with Bengali) those books definitely added more colours to my Dhaka trip.

Prof Yunus had recently sent me a book on social enterprising. In his book titled 'Building Social Business', the futurist social scientist has preached for a different kind of economic exercise that emphasizes more on social developments than the net profit in cash. He terms it as a new kind of capitalism named social business that serves humanity's most pressing needs.

"Actually the social business is a new category of cause-driven business. In a social business, the investors/owners can gradually recoup the money invested, but cannot take any dividend (profit) beyond that point. Purpose of the investment is purely to achieve one or more social objectives through the operation of the company, and no personal gain is desired by the investors," said Prof Yunus.

The former head of Economics department in Chittagong University also clarified that the said company must cover all costs and make profit, at the same time achieve the social objective, such as, healthcare for the poor, housing for the poor, financial services for the poor, nutrition for malnourished children, providing safe drinking water, introducing renewable energy etc in a business way.

Published by the University Press Limited Dhaka, the hardcover book named Building Social Business (written by Prof Yunus with Karl Weber) has 256 pages and is priced at Taka 395. First published in May 2010 by the Public Affairs USA, the book's Bangladeshi edition was published next month and its second impression was in the market by August 2010.

The soft spoken gentleman, who has shown the way of a dignified life for millions of Bangladeshi poor women through micro-finance, argues that the present concept of entrepreneurship is one-dimensional - to maximize profits. By defining entrepreneur in a broader way, one can change the character of capitalism radically and solve many of the unresolved social and economic problems within the scope of the free market.

He at the same time pointed out, if profit and greed are the sole driving force in modern society then why we should have churches, mosques, temples, schools, art museums, public parks or community healthcare centres and why would there be any charities, foundations, non-profit organizations?

"Fortunately for us there is a keen desire among many to lend a hand through charity, for addressing the problems of poverty and other social problems. Charity is rooted in basic human concern for other humans. These days concern is usually expressed in the shape of non-profits and NGOs, which may take various names and forms," elaborated in the book by Prof Yunus.

He maintained, "There may be two types of social business. The first one focuses on businesses dealing with social objectives only with no-loss, no-dividend structure. The second one takes up any profitable business so long as it is owned by the poor and the disadvantaged, who can gain through receiving direct dividends or by some indirect benefits."

There are various ways how the ownership can go to the poor. Occasionally both of them may be mixed where a socially beneficial rural infrastructure can be erected whose ownership will later go to the poor. It brings a new dimension to the business world, and a new feeling of social awareness among the business community, stated the author who believes that the world would be poverty free someday. But Prof Yunus clarified that he is not opposed to making profit and even social businesses are allowed to make profit with the condition that profit stays with the company and the owners would not take profit beyond the amount equivalent to investment.

A supporter of capitalism with social responsibility toils to imagine about an entrepreneur, who, instead of having a single source of motivation (only increasing profit), has now two sources of motivation, which are mutually exclusive, but equally compelling - maximization of profit and doing good to people and the world.

"I am thinking of people who suffer from extreme physical or mental disabilities, as well as the very old and the very young. As a society, we simply owe these people our help, and it would be cruel to insist that they should support themselves. So there is room in our world for charity, just as there is room for social business," asserted Prof Yunus.

With his personal reservation over charity and typical corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives, the dreamer of a new world argues that there is nothing wrong with donation, charity and traditional CSR, but these would have a one-time effect only. The society or the poor would have to wait to get the same benefit until the donors do the same again, which completely depends on their intention.

Prof Yunus, on the other hand, analyses if the people get everything free because donations pours in from the international community, we are not building the economy in the under-developed countries. Moreover, he declared, life cannot go on in a charity mode all the time.

In predicting of a future world, he pointed out that there may be two ways to go about it. One would be to invite the best scientific, technical, and economic analysts in the world to make their smartest twenty year projections. Another would be to ask the world's most brilliant science-fiction writers to imagine the world of 2030, described Prof Yunus.

"If you ask me who has the best chance of coming closer to the reality of 2030, without posing for a second, I would say that the science-fiction writers would be far closer than the expert analysts. The reason is very simple. Experts are trained to make forecasts on the basis of the past and the present, but events in the real world are driven by the dreams of people," asserted the most visible Bangladeshi national in the global space.

The one and only Nobel laureate of the poverty-stricken country till date, Prof Yunus pioneered the practice of official micro-lending and later established 'Grameen Bank of Bangladesh' in 1983. The seventy-year crossed innovative professor shared 2006 Nobel Peace Prize with the banking institution, headquartered in Dhaka. But, his immense popularity was not simply digested by the Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who had left no stone unturned to humiliate Prof Yunus time to time and finally he was ousted from the revolutionary bank in 2011. Many believe that the daughter of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman became jealous when Prof Yunus received the Nobel, as Ms Hasina herself was expecting the coveted award for her successful role as a peace maker in the violence-hit south Bangladesh.

Even though Prof Yunus was ousted as the managing director of Grameen bank, the creator of micro-finance banking remains the policy maker of many Grameen sister concerns devoting on various initiatives like drinking water, yogurt for malnourished children, cell phones, solar power for rural homes etc. Moreover, his spirit was not diminished with the attitude of the Bangladesh authority and continues working for his mission to make the world poverty-free.

"I am thinking of people who suffer from extreme physical or mental disabilities, as well as the very old and the very young. As a society, we simply owe these people our help, and it would be cruel to insist that they should support themselves. So there is room in our world for charity, just as there is room for social business," Prof Yunus analyzed in the book.

Concluding few lines of the book say, "Do our dreams sound impossible? If they do, that means they are likely to come true if we believe in them and work for them… If you are willing to share these dreams with me- and to join the people around the world who are already beginning to transform their dreams into reality through social business- let's undertake this exciting journey together."




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