Can redefining humanity be Muhammad Yunus' legacy?

Muhammad Yunus, co-founder and chairman of Yunus Social Business Global Initiatives. Photo by: University of Salford / CC BY

Professor Muhammad Yunus has already transformed global financial systems and made his mark on development, but at 75 he’s not done yet.

What he’s working to do now, what he hopes will be his legacy, is changing what he calls an “artificial” and “distorted” construct of human beings that the world has created, Yunus, the co-founder and chairman of Yunus Social Business Global Initiatives, told Devex in an exclusive interview in Kampala, Uganda, last week.

“I hope that people will rediscover themselves — that they are not just robots to make money, that they have tremendous hunger for doing things for others,” he said. “All I’m saying is look guy, you have this inside of you — check all your pockets, somewhere it’s there.”

This way of thinking that is both empowering but also looks to the greater good must begin at a young age — both at home and in schools, he said. Children should not only be told that if they follow a certain path they’ll end up as the CEO of a big company, but they should also be told that they can be job creators and change the world rather than working for others.

That way of thinking “has to be integrated in the life process,” Yunus said. “Today I’m bringing it from the outside so it’s been difficult.”

That ideology also has to permeate the development community, which he said is still based on the idea of the limited power of human beings.

“The mold of charity because that’s the only thing they can do because either they’ll work for somebody or somebody has to feed them? I say no, nothing of the sort. They are good enough. That’s the mettle we have inside of us. We take care of us and we take care of the world — that’s what I’m for. That individual has to feel that way,” Yunus said.

The way forward is partly through social businesses, which by Yunus Social Business’ definition is a company with the sole purpose not of making a profit but of solving a social problem in a financially self-sustaining way. It is an idea and a way of addressing development issues that Yunus is advancing through his social business accelerator and is what brought him to Uganda.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner and Grameen Bank founder was there to spread the message and spoke at several events where one common message emerged: Everyone is creative and has the potential to be an entrepreneur. He also met with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to align objectives and get the government’s support for YSB’s work in the country. And he took the opportunity to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees to test out some entrepreneurial social business programs with refugees in Uganda.

Yunus wants people to be empowered but doesn’t mince words when talking about entrepreneurship and its challenges.

“Entrepreneurship doesn’t mean you sit in a baby cart and lie there,” he said. “Entrepreneurship means you overcome odds.”

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About the author

  • Adva Saldinger

    Adva Saldinger is an Associate Editor at Devex, where she covers the intersection of business and international development, as well as U.S. foreign aid policy. From partnerships to trade and social entrepreneurship to impact investing, Adva explores the role the private sector and private capital play in development. A journalist with more than 10 years of experience, she has worked at several newspapers in the U.S. and lived in both Ghana and South Africa.