Friday, July 18, 2014

Creating a World Without Poverty by Professor Muhammad Yunus

I managed to meet, and speak with Professor Yunus today, so what better way to celebrate than with a review? I'll be blogging about my experience soon! 

Normally, non-fiction books with such a heavy premise take me a long time to read. But surprisingly, I finished this book in less than too days - it was that readable and engrossing.

This book is a manifesto of how social businesses can change the world. A social business is a like a conventional business (called Profit Maximising Businesses, or PMB) in terms of organisation structure and practices. The difference is that while the business aims to be self-sustainable, the main objective is to make a difference in society. In other words, if there is a choice between more profits with less impact and less profits with more impact, the social business will choose the option that produces less profit but has a greater societal impact.

Of course, there are people who think it's possible to have a hybrid model, but Dr. Yunus doesn't agree, as he feels that once profit is brought into the equation, the demands from shareholders for more profit will come at the cost of the ethical objectives.

So this book consists of three parts: What a social business is and is not, the Grameen experiment (using the Grameen bank and its various subsidies as a real life cast study) and then Dr. Yunus's hopes for the future, and how he thinks a world without poverty can be achieved. In the edition that I read, his nobel prize lecture "Poverty is a Threat to Peace" and an afterword is included.

For most part, the optimism in this book is incredibly catching and inspiring. However, it is such that whenever I wondered if his ideas could work, I felt bad for being so cynical. So it's a two edged sword.

Things I doubted:

A stock market for social businesses. Considering that in Dr. Yunus's ideal case, social businesses do not pay out dividends, I really wonder how a stock market is going to work. He mentions using yardsticks other than profit, such as impact, but impact is hard to measure and I'm not sure if shares will rise and fall based on the impact of businesses. It feels (to me) that once shareholders come in, the profit factor will come in and distract the business from its ethical objectives. After all, even if 99% of the participants in the stock market do so in the ideal way, it only takes 1% who try to game the market in order to make profit to ruin the plan.

Whether by decreasing poverty, terrorism is decreased. While I think poverty is a factor in the threat to world peace, I also think that things such as religious extremism, political ideologies, etc are problems. For example, it has been recently found out that several Singaporeans and Malaysians have taken part in terrorist activities. Is it because they're poor? For the most part, I don't think so. I think it's brainwashing by religious extremists that are to blame. There are plenty of situations where to me, poverty does not look like the biggest obstacle to peace. There is no doubt that if poverty is eradicated, we will have moved a long way towards peace, but I doubt that terrorism will be eradicated completely.

All in all, I found this to be an inspiring book. Dr. Yunus clearly believes, and practices what he teachers, and the world is better off for it. He makes a compelling case for the existence of social businesses, and I see a bright future for them.


  1. A couple of answers to your second concern: some people from wealthy countries are interested in participating in terrorism because (1) they feel bad for others (Palestinians, Afghans during the Soviet invasion and later the American invasion, Chechens during the Russian invasion, Bosnians during the Serbian-sponsored civil war, etc.) whose suffering can be perceived to be caused by certain institutions, and (2) for similar reasons that drug abuse among the wealthy is high, because both are means of self-expression in otherwise meaninglessly affluent lives. So I think the chain of reasoning goes like this: alleviate poverty -> people are better able to withstand oppression -> others with money and time don't rush off to start violence on behalf of the downtrodden. There is this book that is popular and got decent reviews even from professional anti-terrorist folks, though it doesn't exactly support my view (:

    1. Those are good answers! They definitely gave me food for though(:

      Thanks for the book recommendation, I'll be sure to check it out if I have the chance.


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