“There are two kinds of businesses in the world. One is a business which makes money, and the other solves the problems of the world.” - Muhammad Yunus
The pioneer of microfinance, Muhammad Yunus, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his work with the Grameen Bank. Also known as the “Bank of the Poor”, the Grameen Bank provides access to finance for people who are unable to qualify for a traditional loan.
Since its inception, the bank has disbursed more than 20 billion US dollars. While some widely claim that microfinance has alleviated millions of people out of poverty, the actual impact of Yunus’ creation remains controversial and nuanced in academia.
However, Yunus’ invention of the concept of ‘social business’ is slightly less controversial. The Nobel prize laureate is known for more than just microfinance; he’s also widely known for his new vision of our capitalist society.
The Bangladeshi economist defines a 'social business' as a company which was created to address a social purpose. Beyond making money, this enterprise’s primary aim is to address an injustice that exists in our society. The ends is not profit maximization, but rather, maximizing society’s welfare. To those already acquainted with the status quo, Yunus’ vision may seem idealistic and out of touch.
But the fact is that it really isn’t. In the last twenty years, we have witnessed the proliferation of social enterprises worldwide. We are seeing a new movement led by those not entrenched into our existing capitalist system, led by individuals who have joined Yunus in re-imagining what our world could look like.
From communities of women developers springing up across Africa to jointly revolutionize science and technology, to a Brazilian social business educating their countrymen of ‘effective altruism’ through scientific evaluation of charities, to Indonesian youths redefining conventional cafes by employing and engaging the deaf with the wider community, we are entering a new era of a capitalistic society led by the rise of youth social entrepreneurship.
Yunus has personally spawned many of such businesses. One prime example is the Yunus&Youth Fellowship, a global program supporting youths who want to champion change in their communities. The Fellowship program is founded and led by One Young World Ambassador Cecilia Chapiro, who sought to connect youths with the resources to solve problems in their own communities.
“There are many social problems in the world, but there is still no global network that facilitates knowledge or solves these problems that are still unresolved,” says Chapiro.
Supported by Professor Yunus, the program trains, equips and connects young social entrepreneurs with the expertise, resources, and opportunities needed to scale their impact.
The program provides dedicated mentoring by forging partnerships with larger corporate firms such as Citibank, as well as for-youth movements like One Young World. “We provide dedicated mentorship with for youths to connect with corporate professionals, and partnered with Bridge4Billions to design a digital platform for our fellows,” says Iynna Halilou, Program Manager for Yunus&Youth. "As a true believer in the role of technology, it has been an enriching for me to see new applications of technology for social impact across the globe through our program."
Personally, I have been privileged to be part of this year’s Yunus&Youth fellowship program, representing my social enterprise Artisan & Fox's work to bring artisans in developing countries online. On my six-month journey, my peers’ diverse personas and groundbreaking work around the world have reaffirmed my beliefs that our collective future is indeed bright.
I think we could all use some inspiration. Here’s a short selection of interviews with 12 Yunus&Youth Fellows who are tackling social issues around the globe, from the African diaspora to the Central Americas.
1. Amélie Jézabel Mariage, Spain
“I was inspired to start Aprendices Visuales after my little cousin was diagnosed with autism. My co-founder and I were just students then, but we realized that there were no effective tools to help children with disabilities to learn at their own pace. I wanted to do something for my cousin and the other children, and so we started devoting our time to understanding this problem with Aprendices Visuales.
We need all kinds of minds for our future. The minds of people with autism and the extraordinary abilities that comes with autism will be needed for our future challenges that we as a humanity need to address. My mission is to ensure that their potential as children is fully released.
What started at home five years ago, today has become an international organization that promotes inclusion, respect for human rights and equal opportunities for all children. Aprendices Visuales is now a multi-award winning project with a wide array of e-books, interactive apps, an online academy, and even a movie! We've now reached over a million children worldwide with our tools, in the languages of Spanish, English, French, Portuguese and Greek."
2. Antonio Mendoza, Bolivia
“In Bolivia, there is little support for local research. We have no places to test local solutions for our problems, and even our locals seldom have confidence in the technological products made by their fellow countrymen.
I have worked in both the private and public sector, and so I feel frustrated, because I know there is so much wasted potential in our country in the area of technology. That is why I started EnerGea. Our aim is to inspire people to develop sustainable technological solutions through STEM education programs, while our LED solutions also save energy and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.
I know that Bolivians can be creative, just like people in the other tech hubs worldwide. We need strategic alliances, technical innovation and creative entrepreneurship, and I am doing my best to help my fellow Bolivians to also be passionate about technology and sustainability through EnerGea."
3. Edward Neequaye, Ghana
“The inspiration for Built Accounting first came when I saw many youths at the storefront of an online betting company in the small village of Karaga, in the Northern region of Ghana. I was surprised and disturbed at the same time. I have seen sport betting businesses grow really fast in Accra, but the issue that actually baffled me was just how many youths were standing there, glued to their smartphones either betting or following the scores of matches they have stakes on. I thought, what if these youth can be trained to offer useful services with the support of their internet and smartphones.
Meanwhile, despite the fact that SMEs cover over 92% of all businesses in Africa, more than half do not have access to credit.
The next thing I knew, I resigned from the new job I just joined, and formed Built. We aim to help African SMEs grow across Sub-Saharan Africa through access to credit, and we train youths and offer them digital tools needed to provide low cost book-keeping services to small businesses. In the end, the youth gain experience and income; and the SMEs get adequate financial records that enable them to get easy access to financial services.”
4. Leonardo Párraga, Colombia
"Although I have lived my whole life in the city of Bogotá, it was only until 2012 that I started to discover my city from beyond the typical areas. I did not have a sense of belonging, and I did not have a connection with my town.
The turning point only occurred when a visiting friend from another country invited me to an eco-tourism hike. It was something I did not think was possible in my city. Curiously, I decided to go. That then started a 6-month collaboration to help improve the community process in Bogotá through eco-tourism. I started to feel that my city is now a part of me, and I am able to transform and help communities improve their lives.
My goal in life is to reduce inequalities in my country. Inequality is the root cause of our modern Colombian conflict, and with more than fifty-two years of war, I want to ensure that the future generations do not have their lives endangered for a violence they did not create. Through Fundacíon BogotArt, my goal is to democratize the world of the arts, and to give access to artistic expression to people who are normally marginalized.
I believe that we have two main choices in life: to let ourselves be guided by a vision or by fear. We can choose to believe that the goal that we are pursuing is really bright regardless of the difficulties, or we can let our obstacles stand out and take up all of our mental energy."
5. Innocent Udeogu, Nigeria
"Just one pound of denim can emit up to seven pounds of carbon dioxide. And we know for a fact that over 85% of valuable textiles and other types of waste from fashion is actually sent to landfills. A few charities have seen the opportunity here and have made it easy to donate these items, however, many of the fashion pieces that make it to these organizations are hardly ever wearable and still make that trip to the landfill eventually.
There is a huge need for donated items to be sorted, and what we’ve seen happen is that a charitable organization's’ immediate needs are usually food and money, rather than our old clothing.
The goal of OnceNOut is to provide a convenient means for everyone to sell and donate pre-owned fashion items, to put a stop to the wasteful life-cycle of our old clothes.
I strongly believe that we can do a lot of good through the items we no longer love or find useful to wear.”
6. Elisa de Rooij Mansur, Brazil
“I grew up in a family of doctors. My parents have always taught me about being human, and I was taught to give back, with volunteering being part of my life since I was a teenager.
I discovered the ‘Effective Altruism’ concept when I visited Silicon Valley last year, which taught me there exists an objective and rational way to best allocate my resources if I wanted to ‘do good’. Often, we might not be allocating our resources in the most effective way, but there is so much scientific research out there that have studied the impact of donating to different charities. I decided to bring this concept of effective giving to Brazil, in order to best allocate resources toward poverty alleviation.
My ultimate goal in life is to help others, and I believe doebem is a great part of this plan because it tackles the better ways of eliminating extreme poverty in my country through a scientific lens."
7. Baitulhusna Ahmad Zamri, Malaysia
“In 2014, I’ve just quit my corporate job in Kuala Lumpur, and I've returned to my hometown of Kedah in Malaysia. In my town, I realized the bad shape of the local economy: shops and factories are closing quickly, and many women struggled in getting a decent job. Many local young women were also having difficulties finding a decent job, because they were only educated until high school.
However, I realized that many women in my town do have one thing in common: they are skilled in sewing. However, while they could sew beautiful products, they did not have access to the market or know how to make sales. I decided to start Nazkids to help these young women find employable and dignified work in their homes, by making a series of baby clothing.
My vision for Nazkids is for the women be empowered to go beyond making products, to be self-sufficient and to expand their own businesses by themselves.
One of our biggest struggles was obtaining trust from the people we were trying to help. Many women that we taught the skills to make baby clothes wanted to start their own businesses immediately. However, many soon realized the challenge that they faced is not knowing how to enter the market. Most eventually returned to collaborate with us after they realized Nazkids had a big audience they could sell with."
8. James Ntakiruti, Uganda
“I was four years old when the war in my original country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, led my family to escape to Uganda. Since then, my country hasn’t been stable and we have had no chance to return.
This war is caused by politics and tribalism, and millions of Congolese have been killed. Many youths’ education was disrupted when they fled, and most of us never had the opportunity to continue our education once we left. The refugee camps do not provide quality education, and life in camps do not favor the youths to study. Most children are uneducated and grow up to be unemployed.
I decided there was a need for early childhood development schools in the camp. Most refugees are children under the age of seven (40%) who are not receiving sufficient education. That is why I started YIDA. We have now educated over three hundred children in the refugees camp.
I believe that we don’t need money or time to start something to help others. My advice to fellow youths like me is to follow your heart, and just start, and not wait for any support."
9. Dissa Ahdanisa, Indonesia
"When I was 10 years old, I had my first encounter with a deaf person. He was an old man in a retirement home. I did not know he was deaf, so I started a conversation by talking to him.
He then pointed to his ears and mouthed, "I'm deaf”.
Instead of leaving me, he took my hands and taught me how to spell my name in Indonesian Sign Language. At that moment, I realized the beauty of how learning sign language can help us connect with the deaf community.
I feel that there is still a stigma in Indonesia regarding people with disabilities, and that can only be transformed by connecting our society to the deaf community, and letting everyone see that deaf people are awesome! Deaf people can work just as well as other people. That’s why I created Fingertalk, to not only to create job opportunities through our cafes, but also to connect the hearing and the deaf in order to create an inclusive Indonesia.”
10. Lorna Okeng, South Africa & Uganda
“The places that we walk through every day often have a distinct cultural heritage and history connected to them. But many of these stories remain unknown to us, and are eventually lost with them.
We focus on the places where people wander, and we focus on the landscapes around them. TeleMuseum hopes to bring an immersive cultural experience to everyday people through Virtual Reality on their mobile phones. With us, we want people to relive moments in history as if they were there, and no longer need to imagine what those experiences could have been.
My goal is to be able to allow people experience Africa's rich culture and history, using a medium popular in our digital era to create a space for these conversations to start. I want Africa to tell its own stories.”
11. Yvette Ramakers, The Netherlands
“When I became a mother and was shopping for baby clothes, I often had this uncomfortable feeling of not knowing if the clothes I bought were actually ‘good’. Was I contributing to the bad parts of the fashion industry? I always wanted to do more, but I never really knew how.
Having my second baby gave me the push I needed to quit my high-paying job as a consultant and start BiNKi. So with BiNKi, I can ensure that the baby clothes our children wear are actually fair and sustainably produced. As a mother, I also wanted to make changing more comfortable for the babies, and easier for the parents.
The biggest change I have encountered is that I don’t see working as a job anymore. I actually get up and want to work on BiNKi, and make the world a little bit better at the same time!”
12. Aude Tapsoba, Burkina Faso
“In Burkina Faso, often when it’s the harvest season, we will see so many fresh tomatoes rot into waste. I thought that there needs to be a solution to reduce post-harvest losses, and to prevent these perfectly good produce from going to waste.
At the same time, in my community, I wanted to give more opportunities to vulnerable segments of our population, and provide healthier alternatives. FASOSOLEIL was my brainchild to combine all of these aims.
As a young food scientist and technologist, my career goal is to help the food industry in Burkina Faso thrive, starting with FASOSOLEIL. We want to be the brightest agro-food company in West Africa."
As Muhammad Yunus once remarked, ”Young people are capable of doing much more today than ever in the history of mankind.”
As youths of today, we are blessed with much more resources than any other period in history.
Muhammad Yunus’ latest book, A World Of Three Zeros, is said to emphasize exactly that. I believe we are witnessing the rise of a new economic system that can radically transform our humanity and our planet. Empathy and kindness will be the new main driving forces, rather than individualism and personal greed.