When I received an invitation from the Yunus Centre to attend the Social Business Day 2012 at Sarvar Bangladesh, I was excited at the prospect of listening to a man who is one of a kind. I had heard of Prof Muhammad Yunus many years ago and had once met him at the Dhaka Airport Business Class Lounge where we had an interesting conversation about the quality of leadership in Bangladesh. Professor Yunus is a Nobel Lauriat for introducing Micro Credit to the world. After its amazing success in Bangladesh, it has been adopted in many countries around the world including the United States of America.
I was also intrigued to know that NASA astronaut Ron Garan will be the key-note speaker. While getting an opportunity to listen to an astronaut was interesting, I never knew the significance of Ron Garan’s presence, his relationship with Professor Yunus who also invented the concept of Social Business that also spread around the world in the same manner micro credit spread.
It was amazing to discover that Ron Garan took Muhammad Yunus’s book; ‘Creating a World without Poverty’ with him during his 5 1/2 month in space. The book therefore travelled 65,340,224 miles in 2,624 orbits during 164 days in space together with Ron. Ron Also took with him the Bangladesh national flag to honour the motherland of Professor Yunus.
Ron had heard about the book and its powerful concept in eliminating poverty in the world and wanted to be a part of this great cause. He wanted to use the opportunity of being in space not only to perform his job as an astronaut, but also to bring back an idea that will help him to make the world a better place.
In his opening inspirational speech, Professor Yunus said that there is a lot to take from a space experience. There is no reference point in space, as those who have gone to space would not know if they are vertical or horizontal, Back on earth we are vertical when we stand and horizontal when we sleep. In space it does not matter, therefore you may be sleeping, standing.
Taking a lesson from this we need to create a new world from a new reference point if we are to solve the problems of the world. We need to think creatively without tying ourselves to existing references. The concept of Micro credit was one such idea with the launch of Grameen bank which is 97% owned by poor women who are customers of the bank and 3% owned by the government. Loans are only given to women to start a home industry that will help lift them out of poverty. It was so inspiring and humbling to see the Grameen Board members, all poor women who have benefited by this wonderful concept. It was also heart-warming to see many of the daughters of these poor women who are studying to be world-class nurses. Social business is another such concept without any reference point. In social business, businesses are formed or existing businesses are transformed (fully or partially) to find a business idea that will benefit society. These business owners do not take dividends but they would re-invest the surplus in the business to do better things, using better technology , in a better scale.
There are enough problems to solve. 50% of youth in Spain are unemployed; they are fully prepared academically, with the passion, tenacity and commitment to go out and be an asset, to make this world a better place, but they are not employed. Is it their fault? We have a responsibility to find the opportunities to make them a valuable asset to this world. It was agreed at the recent Rio 20 Earth summit that technology & young people’s initiatives can change everything as per the needs of the planet. Why should economy be money centred? Money controls our lives. We cannot allow that to happen. Why not form businesses to solve problems, building economy, to support each other, not to destroy each other.
Social business is an idea based on the belief that every individual has unlimited power. Social business is an idea based on the belief that every individual has the creative ability to find solutions to the problems of the world. Social business is an idea based on the belief that it is a new space we can enter individually.
While businessmen are happy making money, social businessmen are happy making others happy. There were inspiring presentations from social businessmen from around the world that run their businesses using the social business concept. One such person was Mr Kazuhiko Yazaki, President and CEO, Felissimo, Japan who runs a mail order company selling creative products made from Grameen Check fabric. The Grameen Check idea was born to solve the problems of many underutilised handlooms around Bangladesh.
The concept of social business may seem to be counter to the concept of economics that is profit maximization. However it is interesting that the father of economics Adam Smith also talks about this concept when he mention that there are those who run businesses without profits for the reward of happiness.
In the feature presentation by Ron Garan which was filled with inspiring photos and music videos of his space experience, he covered 3 concepts: Everything is possible, The Orbital perspective of our planet and the importance of collaboration.
He talked about his dreams of becoming an astronaut at the age of 7, how that dream faded away by the time he got to high school and the circumstances on how the dream re-emerged until he became an astronaut. Given his beginnings and circumstances it was an impossible dream, but because he believed in it and worked for it, making the right choices, it helped him to realize his dream. This is an inspiration to all to believe that everything is possible; we need to make it happen.
Talking of the Orbital perspective he mentioned that we see a world without borders from outer space. He showed an interesting image of a yellow colour line running across the land. He first thought it was the moon’s reflection on a river. A closer look revealed that it was the man-made border between India and Pakistan. This image and other experiences made him realize the big contradiction; the beauty of the planet vs the frailness of the planet due to situations created by mankind such as the borders, poverty, environmental challenges etc.
Finally he highlighted that the planet has resources and technology to solve all the problems we have. He mentioned it is wonderful to know that there are 20 million organizations working to make the world a better place but they are not collaborating. They resort to selfish unhealthy competition. To address the issue Ron and Professor Yunus is working on a Social Business project to develop an open source platform named ‘Unity Node’ that will connect all these organizations and their beneficiaries from around the world. Those who have selfish motives and unhealthy competition will be left behind. Ron closed with a powerful remark: We are all interconnected and the only way we can solve our problems is together!
When I thought that this was one of the most inspiring days in my life, I was in for more surprises which continued to stack on the positive energy. We had some special guests arriving to inspire the crowd.
First it was the 3 Bangladeshis; 2 women and 1 man who scaled Mount Everest last month, Nishat Mujumder and Wasfia Nasreen (1st and 2nd Bangladeshi Women to Scale Mount Everest) and M A Muhith who scaled Mount Everest twice (2011 and 2012) who accompanied Nishat Mujumder. Adding to the climax was the arrival of Musa Ibrahim, the first Bangladeshi to scale Mount Everest in 2010. Thereafter the arrival of Shakib Al Hassan, the Bangladeshi cricketer who is the worlds no 1 all-rounder made the crowd go crazy.
These multiple inspirations were topped by a performance by the daughter of Professor Yunus, Monica Yunus a Bangladeshi-Russian-American operatic soprano who has performed with many of the world’s finest opera companies and music ensembles.
I am sure the day’s experience inspired almost the 1000 large audience who would have gone away, oozing with self-belief, rich with new hope and a determination to reach for the stars with the inspiration from outer-space provided by Ron Garan and Inner-space provided by Professor Yunus and the Grameen Bank Board, the Everest Conquerors; Moosa, Muhith, Nishat and Wasfia, the cricket marvel Shakib and the opera singer Monica.
One of the beautiful music videos shown by Ron; time-lapse from space – literally, the journey Home is embedded to enable you to experience a little bit of the inspiration I was blessed with.