Creating A World Without Poverty
When I first posted about the Baha’i International Community’s statement Eradicating Poverty: Moving Forward as One several days ago I was convinced of the need to have a comprehensive vision of a just social order and a unified humanity to guide poverty alleviation efforts. But I wondered what that would look like in practice and how practical steps could be taken to realize these ideals.
Recently I came across the book “Creating a World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism” by Muhammad Yunus which to me gives a glimpse of how some of these ideals can be incorporated into real world action. Muhammad Yunus and the community development bank he organized, the Grameen Bank, were winners of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize. The Grameen Bank makes small loans to people living in poverty and enables them to build a brighter, more self-sufficient future for themselves. The emphasis is on the inherent dignity of the individuals applying for assistance with the goal of enabling them to become contributors to society. Interestingly, most of the recipients are women, who are most likely to be negatively impacted by poverty and who are sometimes most able to benefit their families.
Yunus writes about an economic system, social business, which is influenced not merely by profit maximizing but also by social goals. He points out that the most famous capitalists such as Andrew Carnegie and the Rockefellers and Bill Gates (and I might now add Warren Buffett) have “ultimately turned away from the game of profit to focus on higher objectives”. Yunus also distinguishes between social business and charity. Although a social business seeks to achieve a social objective and not just the highest level of financial profit, it aims to recover its full costs while achieving its humanitarian goals.
Muhammad Yunus also writes about the inequality of wealth distribution and the need for consumers to restrain wasteful consumption and promote sustainability. He points out the devastating impact of uncontrolled growth to the environment.
Most admirably, in the section “A Better World Starts with Imagination”, Yunus speaks about the need for a vision of the future. He says “This process of imagining a future world of our liking is a major missing element in our education system. We prepare our students for jobs and careers, but we don’t teach them to think as individuals about what kind of world they would like to create.” Then he talks about bringing that dream into reality, starting small if necessary, but taking real world social action.
I have only begun to explore the work of Muhammad Yunus, but I am already excited about the striking similarities between the concepts he is bringing into reality and what the Baha’i Community is asking us to envision. I am looking forward to learning and studying more.