Yunus for open South Asian Union by 2030 | The Daily Star
11:00 PM, December 09, 2009 / LAST MODIFIED: 11:00 PM, December 09, 2009

Yunus for open South Asian Union by 2030

Tells Indian parliament about his dream for common currency, flag to create robust financial system


Noble Laureate Prof Muhammad Yunus with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrives at the Parliament House in New Delhi yesterday to deliver a speech at Second Prof Hiren Mukherjee Memorial. Photo: PIB, India

Nobel laureate Prof Muhammad Yunus yesterday called for creating a well-functioning and visa-free South Asian Union by 2030.
In the union, he envisages, there will be a common flag, alongside the national flags of the member countries, a common currency, and a large area of common domestic and international policies.
In a lecture delivered at the joint meeting of the members of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha of India in the Central Hall of Indian Parliament, Yunus also pushed forward a number of targets for the South Asian leaders.
He said the first career choice for every child growing up in South Asia will not be to work for some company but to launch his or her own enterprise.
"Let's dream that by 2030 we'll create a robust financial system to provide easy access to financial services to every single person," Yunus said.
He urged a range of creative and effective social businesses working throughout South Asia to solve social problems.
Yunus hoped South Asia will set up a reliable state-of-the-art healthcare system that will provide affordable services to all people.
Quite upbeat on the region, he said: "Let's dream that by 2030 we'll make South Asia the first poverty-free region of the world. Let's prepare to challenge the world to find a poor person anywhere in South Asia.
"Do all these dreams sound impossible? If they do, that means they are likely to come true if we believe in them and work for them. That's what the history of the last 50 years teaches us."
The Nobel laureate delivered the speech in honour of academician and parliamentarian Prof Hirendranath Mukherjee, better known as Hiren Mukherjee, whose commitment to social justice spanned over 60 years until his death in 2004.
Mukherjee joined the Communist Party of India in 1936 and was elected to the Lok Sabha from Kolkata North East constituency for five consecutive terms beginning in 1952.
Yunus' lecture revolved around the role of social business and also social stock markets in making the "dreams" come true.
A social business, he said, is a business where an investor aims to help others without taking any financial gain himself. At the same time, the social business generates enough income to cover its own costs. Any surplus is invested in expansion of the business or for increased benefits to society.
The social business is a non-loss and non-dividend company dedicated entirely to achieving a social goal, he said.
He made clear the sources of fund for such businesses.
One source can easily be the philanthropy money going for creating social businesses but one problem of charity programmes is that they remain perpetually dependent on donations. Charity money goes out to do good things, but that money never comes back, he said.
But if a charity programme can be converted into a social business that supports itself, it becomes a powerful undertaking.
"Now the money invested is recycled endlessly. A charity taka has one life, but a social business taka has endless life. That's the power of social business," Yunus said.
Besides philanthropists, he said, many other people will invest in social businesses just to share the joy of making a difference in other people's lives. People will give not only money but also their creativity, networking skills, technological prowess, life experience, and other resources to create social businesses.
He came up with examples of social businesses he set up.
Some of them are created in partnership with large multinational companies. The first such joint venture with a multinational company was created in 2005, in partnership with the French dairy company, Danone.
The Grameen-Danone social business is aimed at reducing malnutrition among the children of Bangladesh, he said.
As a social business, Grameen-Danone follows the basic principle that it must be self-sustaining, and the owners must remain committed never to take any dividend beyond the return of the original amount they invested.
The success of the company will be judged each year not by the amount of profit generated, but by the number of children getting out of malnutrition in that particular year.
"Many other big companies are now approaching us to create social businesses jointly with us," Yunus said.
Once they become experienced in social business, they will take the concept wherever the need exists, he added.
"We have a joint venture social business with Veolia, a French water company. The Grameen-Veolia Water Company was created to bring safe drinking water in the villages of Bangladesh where arsenic contamination of water is a huge problem. Villagers are buying water from the company at an affordable price."
There are more others--BASF-Grameen, Grameen-Intel, Grameen-Adidas and Grameen-Otto.
About social stock markets, he said: "I am happy to say there are already initiatives in Europe and Japan to create social business funds to provide equity and loan support to social businesses.
"We'll soon need to create a separate stock market for social businesses to make it easy for small investors to invest in social businesses."
Only social businesses will be listed on this social stock market, Muhammad Yunus said, adding that investors will know right from the beginning that they will never receive any dividends when they invest in social stock market.
The dome of the historic Central Hall of Indian Parliament reverberated with repeated clapping during Yunus' over-an-hour-long speech, reports our correspondent in New Delhi.
Among the distinguished listeners of Prof Yunus were Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress party President Sonia Gandhi and Vice-President Hamid Ansari who is also the chairman of Rajya Sabha, and Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar.
As soon as Yunus ended his scripted speech, there was the loudest round of applause from the lawmakers and leaders.
Later, Prof Yunus was seen talking to the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
The Indian premier described Prof Yunus as a great visionary and said India has much to learn from him as he had applied his brilliance in reducing the poverty of millions.
Opposition leader LK Advani was also present at the lecture by the noble laureate.

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