Bangladeshi economist and 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus is advocating for an economic system based on altruism.

Bangladeshi economist and 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus is advocating for an economic system based on altruism.

Forty years ago, an economics professor in Bangladesh launched what has often been called a revolution. His idea of making small loans available for people who otherwise couldn’t access credit — in this case, mostly poor rural women — caught on internationally.

Using this microcredit model, millions of people in Bangladesh and around the world have started small businesses, and the professor, Muhammad Yunus, was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his efforts to alleviate poverty.

Today Yunus is trying to launch another revolution. It’s founded on the idea that capitalism is broken and a new economic system, one based on altruism, is needed.

He explains how in a new book titled “A World in Three Zeros: The New Economics of Zero Poverty, Zero Unemployment and Zero Net Carbon Emissions.”

Guests

  • Muhammad Yunus 2006 Nobel Peace Prize laureate; creator of the microcredit economic movement; and author of the new book "A World of Three Zeros: The New Economics of Zero Poverty, Zero Unemployment and Zero Net Carbon Emissions"; @Yunus_Centre

Zero Poverty: Bringing An End To Income Inequality 

Excerpted from “A World of Three Zeros: The New Economics of Zero Poverty, Zero Unemployment, and Zero Net Carbon Emissions” by Muhammad Yunus. Copyright © 2017. Available from PublicAffairs, an imprint of Perseus Books, LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

What comes to mind when you think about the word entrepreneurship? Maybe you think about Cali­fornia’s Silicon Valley, with its countless high-tech manufac­turers, app developers, and software companies. Or maybe you think of one of today’s fast-growing hubs for biotechnol­ogy, robotics, and computers, such as Boston, Massachusetts; Sydney, Australia; Bangalore, India; or Vancouver, Canada.

You probably don’t think about the West African nation of Uganda. Yet in a 2015 report, the organization Global En­trepreneurship Monitor (GEM) ranked Uganda as the most entrepreneurial nation in the world.1 According to GEM, more than 28 percent of the population of Uganda has started a business in the last three and a half years—more than six times the percentage (4.3 percent) in the United States. Other studies estimate that more than 80 percent of Ugandans will start a business sometime during their lives.

If you find this surprising, it may be because your image of an entrepreneur is too limited. You don’t need a degree in engineering or computer science to launch a business. Many entrepreneurs take the leap by opening a small shop, buying a goat or cow, starting a taxi service with a single vehicle, or offering a few handmade craft items for sale. Just like the high-flying entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley, they are investing their time and resources in a business based on a creative idea that they believe in. Over time, if they are successful, they may expand their operations, creating jobs, generating wealth, and helping to grow their local economies.

That’s exactly what millions of mostly small entrepreneurial businesses are doing all over Uganda, just as in many develop­ing countries. In the process, they are helping to gradually lift their country and its people out of poverty. They demonstrate one of the fundamental principles of the new economic struc­ture I advocate—that the skills and instincts that make entre­preneurship possible are shared by all human beings, not just a select few. And Uganda is not alone. In emerging countries all over the world, you’ll find the same burst of entrepreneurship at the bottom of the economy. But unfortunately, no support system to match the need exists in any country—including in Uganda, where the existing system has hampered the devel­opment of a culture of economic freedom, despite the strong entrepreneurial instincts of so many of the country’s citizens.

Uganda is one of seven countries of the world in which Yunus Social Business (YSB) now operates. YSB is a nonprofit organization dedicated to spreading the concept of social business, training and supporting pioneers who are interested in launching social businesses, and working with corpora­tions and business leaders who want to create companies or divisions dedicated to social business. By helping to grow the new economy sector in the countries where it operates, YSB is promoting the emergence of self-sustaining companies that are forging solutions to problems like poverty, unemployment, and environmental degradation. Thus, it is helping to create the new economic structure we badly need to supplement the incomplete structure of traditional capitalism.

For a simple but powerful example of how it works, con­sider one of the social businesses that YSB has helped to develop—a company called Golden Bees, headquartered in Kampala, the capital city of Uganda.

Agriculture, both for local consumption and for export, is the leading industry of Uganda, representing the largest share of GDP of any economic sector. But small farmers in local villages have difficulty getting access to national and interna­tional markets with the goods they produce. This limits the income they can earn and makes it harder for them to lift their families and communities above the subsistence level.

One of the most promising growth sectors for these farm­ers is beekeeping. The bees, of course, produce honey, which is a popular commercial product in Africa, used as a sweet­ener in many kinds of foods and as a staple in the kitchens of countless families. Bees also produce a large and growing array of other products, some of them even more profitable than honey. These include beeswax, an important ingredi­ent in many kinds of cosmetics and health care products; bee venom, harvested from the stingers of the bees, which is pop­ular for medicinal purposes; and propolis, sometimes called “bee glue,” a resinous substance being studied by modern re­searchers for its potential medical uses.

Golden Bees is a social business whose mission is to bring beekeeping within reach of thousands of small Ugandan farmers. It does this by selling essential beekeeping goods and services to the farmers, training them in beekeeping techniques, and then collecting, processing, and marketing the products they create. The income Golden Bees generates through its activities keeps the business afloat; any profits are reinvested in expansion, so that the services can be made available to even larger numbers of farmers.

As of mid-2016, Golden Bees has built a network of over 1,200 farmers, with hundreds more waiting to receive training and equipment from the company. The smallest participant maintains just three beehives, while the largest has an array of five hundred. The company operates three small shops located in farming regions near the capital city, where they sell honey and bee products (thereby generating revenues that help to pay worker salaries); provide training and consulting support to local beekeepers; and sell beehive boxes, beekeeper’s suits to protect farmers from stings when harvesting honey, and other equipment. The shops also provide centralized collection sites for honey and other products, making it easier for farmers to deliver their wares to Golden Bees for processing.

A chain of about eighty supermarkets in Kampala sells the honey and other products produced by Golden Bees. Even more promising, the company is expanding its reach into na­tional and international markets. Orders for beeswax have begun to arrive from companies in China, Japan, and Den­mark, and pharmaceutical labs around the world are looking for supplies of Ugandan propolis. To supply these markets, Golden Bees is working on refining its products so they’ll meet the stringent quality standards set by the international manufacturers—another task that would be impossible for one or a few small farmers to manage.

The story of Golden Bees is an example of the power of entrepreneurship to help poor people—and even entire communities—escape from poverty, as well as providing much-needed extra income for families that are already above the poverty line. The farmers of Uganda have always had the determination, intelligence, and work ethic needed to launch and maintain profitable beekeeping businesses on a scale ap­propriate to their own resources. But they lacked the tools and information to get started, as well as the business struc­ture needed to connect them to the national and interna­tional markets. Golden Bees provides them with what they’ve lacked—and lets them do the rest. It shows how new forms of business can help to unlock the power of entrepreneurship, allowing poor people to lift themselves and their communities out of poverty through their own creative efforts.

 

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