“I firmly believe that we can create a poverty-free world if we collectively believe in it. In a poverty-free world, the only place you would be able to see poverty is in the poverty museums,” said Muhammad Yunus, leaning back on a cozy sofa in the office of the
Dr. Yunus said he asked himself that day, “If I can make so many people happy with such a little amount of money, why shouldn’t I try to do more of it?”
Yunus believed that even the most impoverished people have the potential and creativity to build a small business, and that was the modest starting point of his business, the Grameen Bank. The bank is dedicated to helping vulnerable people without requiring any collateral, and works on the principle of microcredit, issuing loans as small as $12.
However, the path to Yunus’ dream was not an easy one. Yunus faced extreme skepticism and criticism over his ideas regarding microcredit. The Bangladeshi government, central bank, and other financial institutions turned their backs on him, saying that giving loans to the impoverished people without collateral would never work—according to the financial rules of a capitalist society. But Yunus was not discouraged—not because he was sure of success but, rather, because he placed so much importance on his belief that impoverished people were also capable of dreaming and all they needed was a little helping hand in the beginning.
“Those conflicts and criticisms were inevitable because my ideas went against conventional wisdom. Labeled as something new, I was sailing against the current and it was most likely that the current would push me back to where I had been. But with a firm belief to offer the littlest helping hand, I consistently followed my values, which I think is the main factor in overcoming such a challenge,” said Yunus.
Today, the Grameen Bank gives collateral-free loans to nearly seven million poor people, having relieved 58 percent of its borrowers of extreme poverty. This achievement alone would be sufficient to make Yunus the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize but he has not stopped there. Yunus has now expanded his anti-poverty crusade beyond microcredit.
“I am very much concerned with providing information technology to poor villages in
As a Nobel Prize Laureate, and a pioneer of microcredit, Yunus may seem special. However, according to his reminiscences, he was just an ordinary unhappy university student, dissatisfied with his life, when he was about the same age as Ewha students.
“I always questioned the validity of the academic theories I was taught in university years. I couldn’t accept their feasibility or meaningfulness, since all those elegant economic theories were at such a disparity with the lives of Bangladeshis. So I don’t think an overly academic attitude is desirable for Ewha students, who should be actively exploring the world and what they would like to do in the future,” he said.
Yunus suggested that a required course be made at university which would provide opportunities for students to have a chance to develop their own wish list. “Life must have a purpose. Prepare a wish list, asking yourself what kind of world you would like to build. As for me, I would have liked to create a world where there will be no war, no poor people and no weapons of mass destruction. In the course, students should discuss these goals, and ways of realizing every wish on the list. After all, we cannot create a world that we do not even imagine,” said Yunus.
Yunus asserted, “Life is like being in a train. Sometimes we are so busy enjoying ourselves inside the train with all those snacks, chatting, and sleeping that we hardly glance out the windows. Some people do not even know where the train is headed, where they are, or how far they have gotten. This also goes with life. Life in which people have no destination or purpose is meaningless.”
Yunus said that the whole grand plan of saving the world may begin with a small, primary step of believing in oneself, that I am capable of creating difference in the world.
“Everybody can make a difference to better the world we live in. There is virtually no one deprived of that potential to become a difference creator. Then, diligently check where you are inside the train of life. Be sure that you exactly know where you want to go. If the driver is not taking you in that direction, be conscious enough to tell him the proper destination. Happiness, in my philosophical terms, derives from the purpose-driven life,” said Yunus.