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Muhammad Yunus @ Impact Hub Berlin

When I’m on the road, I enjoy working out of local coworking spaces like WeWork, Impact Hub, and there are usually a variety of local spaces. Usually a quick Google search of “Top X coworking spaces in Y” will give you a list to start.

There are many benefits to working out of coworking spaces, such as:

  • Creative and beautifully furnished work spaces
  • Large communal areas such as lounges, cafes, and even kitchens!
  • Unlimited coffee/ tea / snacks
  • Vibrant community of resident-startups and freelancers. A great way to find collaborators!
  • Curated events with guest speakers!
  • … and so much more

Today, I ventured to Impact Hub Berlin seeing it’s just two blocks away from my Airbnb. Little did I know I was going to get soooooo lucky! As I walked up the stairs, I noticed the blackboard had a quote:

” All human beings are entrepreneurs “ - Prof Muhammad Yunus, 2006 Nobel Peace Prize

Prof Yunus and me

Prof Yunus and me

As luck with have it, Professor Muhammad Yunus was speaking at Impact Hub today! Tickets were sold out, but since I was working out of the hub today, I knew I could keep checking back until I got a seat!

7 year’s ago…

I first learned about Prof. Yunu’s work with Grameen Bank and the Prevention of Cataract Blindness Project in university as case studies for a Social Business course. Started in 1983, the Grameen Bank provided credit to the poorest of the poor in rural Bangladesh, without any collateral. Professor Yunus, reasoned that if financial resources can be made available to the poor people on terms and conditions that are appropriate and reasonable, “these millions of small people with their millions of small pursuits can add up to create the biggest development wonder.”

To date, Grameen Bank has helped over 9 million borrowers, 97% of which are women. The initiative has also helped over 200,000 beggars through microcredit and helped them start their own small scale business.

In 2010, I attended Prof. Yunu’s lecture entitled “Building Social Business” in Chicago. The impact of his vision for social enterprises planted a seed and deeply influenced my outlook on entrepreneurship, which flowered when I founded my social enterprise, Food and Chatter in South Africa.

At today’s presentation, “All human beings are entrepreneurs”, Prof. Yunus shared his thoughts on entrepreneurship, youth unemployment, and how the Olympics can become a social business.

Youth Unemployment

Prof. Yunus shared his concern for youth unemployment around the world, and more specifically in Bangladesh where over 40% of young Bangladeshis are unemployed! To combat thish, Yunus centers hosts daily Social Business Design Labs where young people come together to brainstorm, develop social business ideas and learn essential business skills.

The center reviews thousands of applications every month, and successful applicants receive funding to start their social business. For these young entrepreneurs, the Yunus Center is a trusted partner who are invested in their success, and will only repay the loan if their business are successful. Yunus center now supports over 14,000 social businesses started by young entrepreneurs!

Prof. Yunus shared his experience working with these unemployed young people, and how they often believe they have no business ideas nor acumen to start their own business. To which Prof. Yunus replies:

"Have you met the many women, often illiterate who have started a business with a Grameen Bank loan? These women made a big decision when they decided to ask for a loan, and many of them have never started a business before!

They worked hard to earn money in order to repay their loan, and many have gone on to start second, third businesses.

If these illiterate women can start a successful business, what do you think you can achieve with your education and technology? Be courageous, discover your inner creative power and your worth through entrepreneurship!

Even if you fail, that just means things didn't click the first time. Don't worry, let's try again and this time, more things will click. Imagine the world you want, and build the roads to get there. "

Entrepreneurship

We started off with short introductions around the room, where some of local entrepreneurs shared their social business models and the challenges they face. Many of them raised similar questions for Prof. Yunus:

  • How can I attract investors for a social business?
  • How can I manage my cashflow better?
  • What are the best models to contribute to a cause? Buy one give one? Revenue % donation?

Prof. Yunus shared his experience starting Grammen Bank at a time when “microfinance” and “social enterprise” were unheard of. He had visited the bank in his University’s campus seeking help and support. The bankers, however, refused to loan money to farmers as they were not ‘credit worthy’. As a result, he used his personal savings and lend loans to poor farmers. Grameen Bank started with five, ten, fifteen borrowers. Prof. Yunu’s friends came together and pool their money together for more lending, and slowly the bank grew.

Another initiative is Grameen Shakit , a rural based renewable energy company which provides Solar Home Systems (SHSs) to rural households. As of December 2012, GS has installed more than 1 million SHSs in rural areas with more than 22,250 SHSs installed per month.

Initially, Prof. Yunus and the GS team faced resistance from locals who were accustomed to buying kerosene as-needed for household heating. Kerosene was cheap but highly flammable, and rural huts often burnt down if proper care was not taken. To overcome customer’s resistance to switch to Solar Energy because of high initial cost, Prof. Yunus and team leveraged their learnings from the Grameen Bank to train and motivate staff who are actively involved in the local community. GS engineers trained women technicians and providet them with employment, managed a scholarship program for school children, they collected damaged batteries to ensure that these do not hurt the environment.

In sharing these stories, Prof. Yunus encouraged us to be PATIENT. Gently reminding us,** “you don’t have to have everything figured out on day one. Layer on new ideas and tweak your processes, and slowly you will grow your social business. **

He also referenced the success of TOMS Shoes’ Buy One Gift One (BOGO) model, stressing the improtance to measure social impact before seeking investors.

TOMS Shoes

Olympics to promote entrepreneurship

Muhammad Yunus at the Olympics

Closing the session, Prof. Yunus shared stories from his time at the Olympics last year.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) invited him to give a keynote in Rio de Janeiro in August, 2016. Using this opportunity, Prof. Yunus worked with the IOC to leverage the excitement around sports as enabler to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

“The sports world has so much power because it draws on the emotion, the excitement, […] and on all the hopes and aspirations of people…. sport has a unique ability to capture the minds of young people and open up their imagination, helping them develop independence, self-confidence, overcome odds and make the impossible possible – all key attributes for entrepreneurship. “

Prof. Yunus suggests that placing a focus on youth entrepreneurship can “give a new perspective for looking at the new generation” and hence contribute to achieving Goal 8 of the United Nation’s SDGs.

UN Sustainable Development Goals

Prof. Yunus engaged in conversation with local government bodies and corporations, encouraging them to think beyond the Olympics for infrastructure planning. After all, the Olympic facilities will be used by the people long after the Olympic games are over.

Final thoughts

Today was a happy accident, and I’m so thankful that I was able to attend Prof. Yunu’s talk!

Working through Ruby right now, I have been feeling a bit stuck because working with backend is hard! But I strongly believe coding is a key skill of the future, and by mastering this skill will enable me to contribute to the wold. Whether it be joining a socially conscious company, or starting personal social business projects.

Prof. Yunus was inspiring as always, and he has injected new energy in me as I continue on my journey to learn to code. Thank you!