Social Business and the Pursuit of Happiness

I have always said that human beings are multidimensional beings. Their happiness comes from many sources, not as our current economic framework assumes, just from making money.
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The global capitalist system today is driven by the notion that people are selfish and are solely motivated by the need for profit maximization. It makes the assumption that if each individual person pursues that goal, then the world overall will be a better place. We have seen that is not true. Neither are people all happier through maximizing profits, nor are the problems of the world solved. Many would argue that the problems of the world are in some cases made more acute by the single minded pursuit of profits.

I have always said that human beings are multidimensional beings. Their happiness comes from many sources, not as our current economic framework assumes, just from making money.

I began my work in the '70s teaching at a university in Bangladesh and these economic theories that I had learned stopped ringing true for me, as I saw the misery of people living all around me. I decided that I would drop those theories, and go out to see if I could be helpful to just one person in the village outside of the university where I was teaching. After talking with some local women, I found out that they were made to pay exorbitant interest rates and subjected to other oppressive conditionalities on the tiny loans they were given with which to carry out their handicraft activities. I gave 42 of them $27 dollars of my own money as a loans to solve their problem. They used that to free themselves from the loan sharks, and were able to pay me back. From this tiny experiment, the Grameen Bank was born. Today we lend to over 8.4 million borrowers in Bangladesh, giving them fair loans and a fair chance to climb out of poverty. That is when I learned that people can help change their own destinies, if they are given an opportunity to do that. For myself, I discovered that while making money for one's self is happiness, helping others can bring super-happiness.

During the journey to build up Grameen Bank, I created many other self sustaining enterprises to address the problems faced by the people we worked with -- the rural poor. That was the start of social business -- a new type of business that focuses on solving social problems, rather than just making money. Over the years I created many such enterprises. In recent years many international business houses became interested in collaborating with us -- including Danone, Veolia, BASF, Uniqlo and Intel. We set up joint ventures with them -- making use of their technological expertise, to solve local social problems such as malnutrition, the need for clean drinking water, to fight mosquito borne diseases, to tackle unemployment and maternal health issues. We also created some very successful stand alone social businesses including Grameen Shakti, which supplies solar energy to off-grid villages, and Grameen Eye Care Hospital, which provides affordable cataract surgeries and other eye care treatment in rural areas. Glasgow Caledonian University teamed up with us to establish a nursing school, offering tertiary education to rural village girls.

In 2010, I met Saskia Bruysten in London. Originally a management consultant, Saskia became interested in the work that I was doing and wanted to be part of the movement to create businesses that benefit both people and the planet. Together, we created Yunus Social Business (YSB), a business incubator fund that lends to social business entrepreneurs all around the world. YSB's concept is simple. We select the most promising business plans created by local people that are designed to solve local problems in a sustainable way i.e. pay for itself with some revenue-generating activities. Any profits will be reinvested into the business or used in some way to benefit the local people. YSB makes investments in such businesses through its fund and takes no profits. Everything goes back to the community.

Since 2011, YSB has grown rapidly. Today we are operating in seven countries (Haiti, Albania, Brazil, Colombia, India, Tunisia and Uganda). We have attracted a strong team of over 25 people from very diverse backgrounds, all committed to social business in order to give back to the communities around the world in which they are working. We also have many volunteers, each with his or her personal reasons to work for YSB.

With the world's population crossing 7 billion people, it is more crucial than ever that we re-evaluate the concept of capitalism. Will we continue to sacrifice the environment, our health and our children's future in the relentless pursuit of money and power, or will be take the destiny of the planet into our hands by re-imagining a world where we put the needs of all people at the center, and that our creativity, money and profits become a means to achieve those needs?

In this series of articles we will give a voice to different people working in, around or impacted by social business, including entrepreneurs, volunteers, YSB staff, development agencies and beneficiaries. We will take a look at how different people are focusing on social business as a means to live a fulfilling life, and to help others in gaining the same opportunities.

As readers, we hope you will follow the activities of YSB and explore the social business space. You can find us online on our website, Twitter @yunus_sb and Facebook

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