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Muhammad Yunus's session at Tata Steel Kolkata Literary Meet 2018

·6 mins
Mayukh Datta

“I wanted to change the entire banking system, which was flawed. I wanted to help poor people, that was the main idea” exclaimed the Nobel Peace Prize awardee and Microcredit pioneer Muhammad Yunus during a session on his new book “A World of Three Zeros” at Kolkata Literary Meet against the backdrop of the marvelous Victoria Memorial.

Literature festivals are a concoction of various sessions that comprise book launch events, interactive discussions and spicy debates. Since 2012, Kolkata Literary Meet is being organised every year in January on the grounds of Victoria Memorial and some sessions are held in Calcutta Club too.

Mr. Subroto Bagchi (left), Dr. Muhammad Yunus

The session moderator, Mr. Subroto Bagchi, asked Yunus about his mother. He said that despite the fact that his mother discontinued education after the fourth standard, she knew about Gandhi, Jinnah, and recited poetry to her children. Among nine siblings her mother had a particular fondness for her third child, him, and he reckons, her blessings gave him the impetus to overcome every hurdle so far.

During his early days, he spotted many villagers losing all their assets to loan sharks on failing to repay the debt. These atrocious acts anguished him and he decided to help them by lending money. He didn’t charge any interest, and also expressed no haste in fetching the repayment. This continued for some time until he found the Grameen Bank or ‘rural bank’ in 1983 to finance the poorest of the poor in Bangladesh. The New Indian Express report says, “Grameen now has 2,564 branches, with 19,800 staff serving 8.29 million borrowers in 81,367 villages of Bangladesh”. He lamented that the current financial and banking system is fundamentally wrong as they should be sanctioning loans to the poor first.

Well, I too think the same, continuing this flawed financial system will solve nothing but will only strengthen the economic inequality. Yunus says, “I always did just the opposite of what banks do. What banks did was for the rich. I reversed the system to make it work for the poor. The best thing that happened to me is that I never studied banking. I did things as it came and had no guarantees for the credit we gave. Luckily it worked”. In 2006, he and his Grameen Bank has bestowed the Nobel Peace Prize jointly for their altruistic efforts for socio-economic development.

According to me, the existing education system needs a dire reform, education must coach one to be able, to cater to the society by making both the individual and others prosperous. The existing drawbacks of the education system had always irked me and the session with Yunus made me understand the problems better. I believe other sensible people are also aware of the drawbacks which include the vagueness when it comes to the purpose of learning, lapses in bridging the gap between new knowledge and existing knowledge, the practical application of knowledge, and so on. Anyway, I can write reams on education in India and worldwide but let’s keep it for another post. He raised concern by stating that economic theory teaches one to do business for their own benefits, it teaches selfishness and self-centricity. He suggests fusing this selfishness with selflessness so that our world progresses collectively.

A human being is a combination of selfishness and selflessness. When human beings use the selflessness and create social businesses is when the world would be a better place.

Muhammad Yunus

“Social business is not only about the economy, but it is also about the society”, said Yunus, the eminent and noble social entrepreneur. The horrible sanitary conditions of Bangladesh put him into distress. He came up with a smart condition for Grameen’s borrowers. They were instructed to build and use a pit latrine. In short, they were barred from defecating in the open, and on disobeying the order the borrowers had to forego their privileges as the Grameen bank beneficiaries as a penalty. Such a simple solution worked and now Bangladesh has a higher percentage of the population with access to sanitation than India. Moreover, he introduced solar panels and solar cookers in rural areas which the villagers could buy using loans. Grameen encourages women empowerment and gives high priority to women by trying to break the stereotype of a man dominated society. 97% of Grameen’s borrowers are women. Grameen sells mobile phones to village women for the use of other villagers who don’t possess a phone who can call from these phones in return for small payments. This way the women are making money and becoming independent.

During his frequent visits to villages, he found children who would lose their visions in darkness. On inquiring a doctor he came to know that they had night-blindness, a vision impairment caused due to Vitamin A deficiency. The doctors advised the villagers to either take Vitamin A supplements or consume leafy vegetables. Yunus told the villagers to eat vegetables but soon he found that very few heeded. He realized that they couldn’t afford the seed and, therefore, his team started selling one taka packets of seeds. His mission eventually became a success and night blindness was eliminated from Bangladesh.

Poor people are bonsai people. There is nothing wrong with the seed. But simply, society didn’t give them space to grow as tall as everybody else.

Muhammad Yunus

Yunus said, “When we consider the wealth distribution in the world, people often talk about the imagery of the pyramid and say how the poor are at the bottom of the pyramid. But I do not see any pyramid. The best explanation of it would be a mushroom. The upper part of the mushroom keeps growing all the time, all the wealth of the world is reflected in the mushroom. That mushroom is owned by a dozen people and now the number is coming down to less than a dozen”, he concludes, “So, the number of owners is decreasing but the shape of the mushroom is increasing, and that is the dangerous part of wealth concentration. The stem part of the mushroom is becoming thinner and thinner. That is 99.9 percent of the population”. He warns us that people will never be able to tolerate such a system that sucks everything from the bottom and pushes it to the top, and the system will certainly explode if this continues. Hence, he tries to reverse the system with an aim to minimize economic inequality and to establish a poverty-free world. In other words, the economic power should not be concentrated within a few hands, it should rather be distributed among all.

Each zero in his new book - “A World of Three Zeroes” - has a significant meaning: zero poverty, zero unemployment, and zero net carbon emissions. His social businesses not only help the poor people but the entire society and the environment. To my mind, the three major issues which he intends to bring down to a zero are every nation’s common problems. I believe that if the number of people like him even goes up slightly then the current decaying world will transform into a glorious and prosperous one.

My cousin rushed to get it signed. Credit goes to him!

Making money is happiness. And that’s a great incentive. Making other people happy is super-happiness.

Muhammad Yunus