Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus and his ardent followers yesterday pledged to wipe out unemployment from the world.
“We vision a world where there will be no unemployed people. The word 'unemployment' will be obsolete,” Prof Yunus said at the opening ceremony of the 5th Social Business Day at Radisson Hotel.
He spoke to more than a 1,000 delegates, including 275 international participants from 31 countries that gathered to celebrate the day and find ways to deal with a deepening unemployment crisis that plagues almost every country on the planet.
Each year the world marks June 28 as Social Business Day, to coincide with the birthday of the microcredit and social business pioneer, who turned 75 yesterday.
The day started with Yunus taking the stage to welcome the participants, and the audience applauding as the founder of Grameen Bank read out names of the countries represented at the event.
Apart from the host nation, China had the highest representation to the daylong annual event with 43 delegates, followed by a 32-member team from France and a 35-member team from Taiwan. A 23-member team from India and 26-member team from Japan also attended.
The US, the UAE, Hong Kong, Cambodia, Mexico, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia were also present.
The Kazakh delegation added a new dimension to the event, as the team comprising government officials and researchers was sent by the prime minister of the Central Asian country. Yunus Centre, which promotes ideas and philosophies of the Grameen Bank founder, organised the event around the theme “We Are Not Job-Seekers, We Are Job-Givers—Turning Unemployment into Entrepreneurship.”
"This year's event has particularly targeted the unemployment issue, as everybody is frustrated by the economies' behaviour, as it teaches us to chase money for life and forces us to act like robots. There are some toxic elements within businesses,” he said.
Known as the Banker to the Poor, Yunus said he now targets elimination of unemployment as his next mission.
The founder of Grameen Bank, which has already lifted millions out of poverty through its model in Bangladesh and Grameen-inspired organisations across borders, said unemployment is torture for youth who want to work.
Yunus has launched a project to create new entrepreneurs, which is to focus on youth unemployment. “We are looking at them as job-givers,” he said, adding that Bangladesh is becoming a world example of how to tackle unemployment.
He blamed the education system, saying the wrong system is creating an inhibited labour force. "We have made almost a culture of education that teaches students to focus on a job with the best company. That is the life objective taught. It is a shame for a human being to be limited like that."
The delegates composed of local and foreign investors, economists, entrepreneurs, researchers, academia, and students spent the whole day discussing, sharing and learning the ways to employ the new economic theory to combat unemployment.
The theme of the annual event is timely as unemployment is rising in Bangladesh, where two million youths join the workforce every year as per official statistics. Unemployment in parts of the world is threatening national and international security as countries struggle to provide jobs.
On the day, Yunus and his social business idea were showered with praise.
Australia has decided to use part of its official development assistance to promote the private sector, Greg Wilcock, high commissioner of Australia said. “We will also support innovation and new ideas. And what better idea than that of social business?”
“Social Business Day is not just an event for sharing information. It is a social movement, uniting people around the world," said Lee Yun-young, the South Korean ambassador to Bangladesh.
“Social business is an effective and creative movement, and it will be fruitful in the future,” he said.
Mahmoud Ezzat, ambassador of Egypt, termed the social business as “a great idea from a great man”.
“This has given Bangladesh a very special place on the global map.”
A passionate supporter of Grameen Bank and Yunus, outgoing US Ambassador Dan Mozena said: “I love the philosophy of Grameen Bank. I have visited centres of Grameen Bank in many villages. I have visited Grameen America. Everywhere I go I can see the magic of Grameen."
It has taught people how to use resources and improve their livelihood, and the magic of social business will propel Yunus to greater heights, he said.
Bangladesh has produced some of the great development ideas, and one of them—microcredit—has already become an important tool of the UNDP's fight against poverty, said Nick Beresford, deputy country director of the UN organisation.
The government in France is also working to make social business a part of the official development assistance, said Emmanuel Faber, vice-chairman of the Danone France.
"People who have perished during the war would have to be proud to say while Paris has the Eiffel Tower, New York has the Statute of Liberty and Cairo has the pyramids, Bangladesh boasts not bricks but a man—a man admired by every country on earth, a man who has become synonymous with all that is admirable about Bangladesh, Dr Muhammad Yunus," said Kerry Kennedy, president of the US-based Robert F Kennedy Centre for Justice and Human Rights.
She began her keynote speech with remembering the independence martyrs of 1971, the Pakistani forces' brutality, and her uncle Senator Edward Kennedy's stance in favour of the Bangalees.
The contribution Yunus has made is changing the fate of millions of poor people around the world, Kennedy said.
“The programme established by Prof Yunus at the Grameen Bank is the single most important development in the Third World in the last 100 years, and I don't think any two people will disagree.”
An accomplished human-rights activist and writer, Kennedy said small groups of people should never be underestimated. “That is exactly what this conference is all about."
"It is about all of us, small groups of people who have committed their lives to eradicating poverty or providing healthcare or education or human rights or women's empowerment, talking together, learning, from one another, forming coalitions and creating change.”
“The idea behind social business is, we are not in it for ourselves, but for our communities—for stopping poverty, assuring universal quality education, protecting and promoting healthcare, empowering women and stopping violations of human rights.”
“That is why the idea of social business appeals to the best of us, the part of us that says we can make a difference no matter how daunting the challenges may seem, the spirit that keeps pushing the boulder up the hill.”
Her centre teaches 500,000 students about Grameen Bank and social business in one their chapters at different levels.
A Social Business Design Lab session was held during the event where social businesses from five countries were presented. There was also a Social Business Marketplace showcasing social businesses from around the world.
Pror Yunus said: “The social business family is getting bigger, diverse and deeper every year. The excitement is enormous.”
He set up the Social Business Design Lab to take care of budding entrepreneurs, Yunus said. “So far, we have got 222 projects. Of them, 210 have already been approved. Everyone will be financed. There will be no shortage of fund.”
At the Social Business Design Lab, where six social business projects were presented from various countries, Md Yeasin, a Bangladeshi student, made a carom board in less than five minutes as the translator was talking about the project.
Speaking on the viability of the project, Rokia Afzal Rahman, president of the Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said: “This has a huge potential. This is a bankable project. This will create a number of jobs in the country.”
A social business is a non-dividend company dedicated entirely to achieving a social goal. In social business, the investor gets his/her investment money back over time, but never receives dividend beyond that amount. The sole purpose of the business is to solve a predetermined social problem in a sustainable way.
Six concurrent workshops also took place at the same venue. Topics covered include social businesses in the academic world, fighting youth unemployment with social business, innovative financing for social business social business in marketing.
A group of Phare Social Business from Cambodia, which trains street children to become circus artists, captivated the audience with their splendid performance.
Joining the opening ceremony were nine elected directors of the Grameen Bank board, which is now regarded the world's most successful social business company.
On the occasion, Tahsina Khatun, a director and spokesperson for the board, opposed the changes to the rules that oversee the election of the independent directors.
“The rules have been changed without talking to us, although we control 75 percent of the bank's shares. If elections are held as per the amended rules, politics will penetrate the bank, and the consequences will be dangerous.”
Yunus, who was unceremoniously removed from the bank as its managing director, said he would continue to work to protect the bank so it can work in line with its original mission of eliminating poverty.