June 2016
Layla Belmahi

Muhammad Yunus and social business

It’s not everyday that one has the opportunity to meet one of the recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize, a group of people that includes Barack Obama, Mother Teresa, and Martin Luther King. C2 Montréal not only succeeded in attracting one of these individuals,

Muhammad Yunus, it also concluded a partnership between C2 and the Grameen Lab, a company founded by Mr. Yunus. As a result of this announcement, I had the chance to participate in a workshop that featured Mr. Yunus on May 25th, at C2. I was even able to have a word with him and shake his hand!

As I left, I said, “See you tomorrow at HEC,” as if we were old friends… Maybe this was just my way of lightening things up and making myself comfortable around the individual who won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for introducing, if not inventing, microcredit.

At HEC Montréal’s lecture hall, the atmosphere was almost intimidating. The room was packed. Students, graduates, and professionals had all shown up on that Thursday afternoon to listen to the wise words of a man whose teachings they had studied in class, and who they viewed as a mentor and a guide.

Mr. Yunus continually emphasizes the idea of “potential” – it’s a kind of obsession for him. At C2, he spent a significant portion of his workshop listening to participants speak about their projects for actualizing their creative potential, while at his HEC conference, he began by calling on students to realize their potential as agents for societal change. It’s almost as though Mr. Yunus has eyes only for what could be, rather than what already is.

According to him, we are luckier and stronger than the preceding generation because we now have powerful technological tools at our disposal.

However, it is not enough to have a certain measure of power; what counts is putting this power to good use. This is exactly what Mr. Yunus did by creating the Grameen Bank, revolutionizing the lives of thousands of people around the world, and what he invites us all to do in our own way.

As a matter of fact, perhaps the most inspiring thing to take away from Mr. Yunus’ words is that one must not be afraid of breaking new ground, even in fields that seem rigidly established. The Grameen Bank is the proof of this, whether through its different initiatives or its philosophy. Instead of approaching the wealthy, the bank gives loans to the poorest members of society. And instead of focusing on men, it builds on women and their potential – women make up 97% of borrowers. Finally, rather than serving the interests of large companies or rejecting them entirely, the bank collaborates with them in order to use their wealth and expertise to benefit those most in need. As Mr. Yunus explained, his goal is to “put poverty in a museum.”

All in all, this was a very inspiring gathering. Especially considering that if there was ever a place with great potential ready to be developed, it is surely here, in Montréal.

To learn more about Mohammed Yunus’ time at C2 Montréal, see the article by Marie-Claude Lortie.