Muhammad Yunus, winner of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, detailed his lifelong efforts to end global poverty to a captivated audience of D.C. residents and students in Lisner Auditorium Wednesday night.
The Bangladeshi economist and professor has received numerous awards for his philanthropic works, but Yunus received the highest recognition, the Nobel Peace Prize, in 2006 for his monumental establishment of Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. With his system of microcredit, Yunus loaned poor individuals, predominantly women, small sums of money equal to $40 or less, allowing them to start their own businesses and pull themselves out of poverty.
HooksBookEvents, which specializes in book and author events, sponsored the evening’s program. While their events are typically private, founder Perry Pidgeon Hooks spoke enthusiastically about their first public event featuring a world-renowned economist and author.
“Nothing like doing your first public event with a rock star,” she exclaimed.
Betty Simms, wife of the chairman of the Grameen board – an organization aimed at aiding the world’s poor based on Yunus’ microfinance model – introduced the Nobel Laureate. She explained how as a young, impoverished boy Yunus overcame numerous obstacles, rising above poverty and helping millions to do the same.
During the event, which celebrated the paperback publication of the Yunus’ most recent book, “Creating a World Without Poverty: How Social Business Can Transform Lives,” the author spoke about his social business model, outlining how self-sustaining businesses can yield major humanitarian benefits.
Since achieving a repay rate of nearly 99 percent in his Bangladesh-based project, Yunus has spread Grameen Bank to 183 other branches worldwide and has turned microcredit into an international phenomenon.
The success of Yunus’ endeavors has led him into a number of other humanitarian projects. In addition to Grameen Bank, Yunus is working with distributors of food, water, shoes and even cars to give the poor access to these goods at a significantly reduced cost, allowing them to maintain a higher standard of living.
Yunus also touched on the current financial crisis, hinting that it offers a parallel to his own financial work. He said that although many have been skeptical of the “credit worthiness” of his borrowers, the bailout has put the American public in the borrowers’ position.
“Now is the time to ask the question: Who is credit-worthy?” he said.
Though he recognized the problems posed by such wide-reaching economic turmoil, Yunus called the crisis “an exciting opportunity to create new.”
Following his speech, several audience members asked questions about the Nobel Laureate’s success, many seeking advice on how to apply his ideas of social business to their own entrepreneurial goals. In one response, Yunus gave encouraging words to students in the audience hoping to establish such a business.
“Young people, you can start [a social business],” Yunus said. “Whether you want to get people out of welfare, whether you want to take unemployed people out of unemployment or whether you want to take homeless people out of homelessness, it’s all a social business.”
With his projects already making huge strides in the fight against world poverty, Yunus envisioned a near future without poverty.
He said, “Poverty belongs in the museums and it will be staying there.”