Tuesday, December 20, 2016


Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of interviewing Nobel Laurete Muhammad Yunus.

Starting in the late 1970s Yunus’ work with lending to the poor and the eventual founding of the Grameen Bank popularised the microcredit concept. His pioneering work gave traction to the notion that the poor don’t need charity but the opportunity to pull themselves out of poverty. It’s where the notion that there is wealth at the bottom of the pyramid begun to get traction.

Yunus, a trained economist himself, through the work he was doing among the poor of Bangladesh begun not only to rethink but to challenge the conventional economic wisdom.

He sums up his mission now as the three zeros – zero unemployment, zero-poverty and zero-carbon emissions.

"Yunus argues that employment as we know it is a recent concept a creation of the industrial revolution, prior to that if a person or a community had a challenge there would either learn a craft  or band together to sort it out – essentially creating a business....

Poverty he says too is an unnatural condition to the human being. How can one fail to meet his basic needs – the minimum definition of poverty, when we live among plenty and there are people all around us who are wealthier than us. Poverty he argues is imposed upon us to sustain an unfair system that thrives on inequality.

It’s a bit hard to argue against the man given that he not only has impeccable credentials in the subject but also because he has tested his thinking and despite what the text books say, has empirical evidence to prove his point.

Every once in a while, not very often maybe a handful of time during one’s life these type of people cross your path who take what you know, the conventional wisdom , and turn it on its head opening up a whole new perspective.

His Grameen bank started as a well-meaning attempt to free the poor from the yoke of the loan shark. 

The poor needed financial services but the high street banks couldn’t be bothered to service them. It would be too much bother and economically unviable to manage their many, but small accounts they argued – and still argue today. Besides how do you lend to a person without a regular income or recognisable assets.

Grameen Bank and the numerous microfinance institutions that have followed suit have put the high street bankers to shame. Grameen Bank now employs more than 20,000 and pulls in an annual net incomes in excess of $10m (sh36b) all from a clientele the regular banks did not want to touch with a ten foot pole.

Which raises the question, it can be argued that the patrons of the bank always had the resources so how come they couldn’t martial these same resources sooner?

"Clearly the people could not see the potential around them and had bought into the idea that poverty was the natural order of things for them and they rather accept their lot. Its interesting how the mind works. Once it hears “No” it stops working, essentially gives up. And its possible for a mass conditioning to occur where a whole society believes it is lesser than its true potential because that is the accepted wisdom...

So poverty comes from the mind. The inability to conceive the possibilities and therefore take advantage when the opportunities present themselves is the beginning of all poverty.

While some people can pull themselves out of this mass hypnosis out of either self-education, stubbornness, faith that they deserve better or all of the above, most people need to be shown the way, led by another with recognised authority.

Essentially if my neighbour can do it, pull himself out of poverty why can’t I?

I imagine tooling around the squalor and deprivation of Bangladeshi slams Yunus could easily establish authority by virtue of the fact he had been to school.

Given the Grameen story all one needs to pull out of poverty is an open mind and leadership or mentorship.

Self-help author Robert Kiyosaki once wrote  that realigning the mind to think in a wealthy way is the hardest part but once that is achieved the physical part, the actual going about accumulating the wealth is the easier part.

It makes sense doesn’t it. The reason we are poor as individuals or as a country is because our minds have been conditioned to focus on the negatives – low income, poor education or lack of technical know-who to explain our inadequacy. Once that thought has found a comfortable place in the mind we stop thinking about the possibilities.

In a strange way despite these same thought processes causing us grief we rather stick with them than do the hard work to change our thinking patterns.

"Our agrarian background equates work to visible physical activity and cannot relate to the internal
work one has to do on themselves to change their mindsets.  Hence we are daily involved in frenetic activity, micromanaging everything and generally being loud as proof that we are working...

So thinkers are lazy people. So we remain poor.

The story of Grameen Bank is that whatever we need to pull ourselves out of our malaise is around us, better still inside us.

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