Friday, March 30, 2018

Mohammad Yunus

Very glad to be able to listen to Mohammad Yunus again, and than to have dinner with him.  Yunus is, of course, the father of microcredit from Bangladesh who received the Novel Prize in Peace for starting a bank to lend small amounts of money to poor people, particularly the women, to start their own business, turning millions of people into entrepreneurs. 

The first time I listen to him was 2012, at Tufts University.  He spoke about starting businesses to solve problems.  At that time, at PolyU, we were just starting to implement service-learning.  I thought what he said was a great idea but could not really see how I could apply it.    This time h became to PolyU.  By now, we have already gotten quite a bit of experience in service-learning and I picked up a number of ideas that are really quite relevant.  

He said we should not only be job seekers, trying to do what other people ask us to do.  But be job creators, imagining that we would like to see and work towards making the world the way we imagine it.  That is what we have been doing with service-learning.  We found many good practices in service-learning from some of the American universities.  We dared to dream about creating a culture of civic engagement at PolyU and started to work towards it, creating our own jobs in the process.  

Yunus told of how economists assume that people seek for their own benefit, ignoring that people do not only have selfish motivations.  That matches my own perception.  That is also what gives us hope and what we hope to build on. 

He talked about how they ask the poor people in Bangladesh to use the money used to buy kerosene to invest in solar energy, benefiting millions with solar power.  That is an idea that we have been struggling to implement.  We have installed solar electrical power for hundreds of homes in Cambodia, Myanmar and Rwanda.  We have trained scores of local youths to install solar panels.  But we not yet been able to help them turn the technology into businesses, injecting the profit motive into the equation.  That is something that we can put more effort in, to create bigger impact.  

Working towards creating social enterprises is an idea that applies not only to our solar energy projects, but to other service-learning projects as well.  In one case, we have helped a small NGO in Cambodia create a home-stay business, renting our village lodging for visitors to experience village life in rural Cambodia.  But these successes are still rare and in small scales.  We need to do more.  

He also mentioned that some graduates from business schools have actually turned more selfish by the time they graduate.  That is a serious warning for us educators.  Are we actually making the world worse by nurturing more selfish human beings?  If so, we really should be condemned.  

It is a warning that we should heed.  I do not wish to single out the business schools.  But i have indeed seen signs that this might actually be the case.  

Finally, I asked him the first question: how can we make more people like him?  The world is full of people who have the power to do good, but do not do it.  There re also many people who want to do good but do not know how.  How can we have more people like Yunus, who have the good intentions and are able to make it a success?  I suspect I have at least one answer, through giving the young people the opportunity to learn to be successful in doing good.  That is what we are trying to do with service-learning.  We hope that, by the time they graduate, they are less selfish.  

I hope it it more than just a dream.  With God’s grace, we can do it.  

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