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The Power of Microbusiness

April 30, 2012

Shannon Maynard is the Director of Grameen Foundation’s skilled volunteer program, Bankers without Borders®. Maynard has more than 15 years of experience in nonprofit management and volunteer mobilization. Before joining Grameen Foundation, she served as Executive Director of the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation, and managed strategic initiatives for federal agency the Corporation for National and Community Service. One of the books that has been on my reading list for a while but I haven’t gotten to yet is The Coming Jobs War, by Gallup CEO Jim Clifton.  As a busy working mom, I’ve read reviews and excerpts, and have promised myself to read the entire book by the end of the summer. I do know that the premise of the book, which is based on the findings of Gallup’s World Poll, is that what people in the world want most is a good job. Here in the United States that typically translates to a formal job and steady paycheck. In the developing world that includes informal jobs, but the message is the same – people want steady, reliable pay in return for a hard day’s work.  Clifton argues that over the course of the next 30 years, economic force will trump political and military force in terms of determining which countries have power and influence and which do not. The top U.S. cabinet position will be the Secretary of Job Creation – not the Secretary of State or Defense.

Statement of Prof. Yunus Regarding His Removal from Grameen Bank

May 07, 2011

Statement of Nobel Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus on the Occasion of Supreme Court Verdict on May 5, 2011 Regarding His Removal from Grameen Bank.  Professor Yunus voiced his concern after revelations surfaced surrounding violence against employee leaders of the Bank.  Those interested may also want to read in the Bank's point-by-point refutation of the allegations brought up in the government's Review Committee report, as well as by the nation's government-aligned media.

You have already heard the verdict from the Supreme Court.

Why did I appear before the Court? Why did I want to contest the order of Bangladesh Bank? Why there is so much concern about this issue at home and abroad? There may be some confusion regarding these questions. Please allow me to share my feelings with you to remove this confusion. I went to the Court for a specific reason. Bangladesh Bank sent a letter to Grameen Bank, removing me from my post as Managing Director of Grameen Bank. The letter also mentioned that I held this position for the last eleven years illegally. Bangladesh Bank did this without giving me a chance to explain my position. I felt that this letter was not legally correct, and through this letter, not only was I been wronged, but so was Grameen Bank. Nine elected members of the Board of Directors of Grameen Bank felt the same way. That is why the nine members of the Board and I filed separate writs in the High Court. We wanted these wrongs to be corrected. Therefore, we had to seek justice through all avenues offered in the Bangladeshi judicial system. This is what we have done.

The fate of 40 million poor people connected to this
In the event that the Honorable Court stated in their final decision that the letter from Bangladesh Bank was issued without lawful authority, I could continue my work with Grameen Bank and make the transition to a capable management as smoothly as possible. But, if the Court verdict went against us, the Board may be forced to take steps to implement the content of the Bangladesh Bank letter. This was the only reason for me to take this matter to the Court. I had no option but to seek justice in this matter.

It is indeed a much wider and much more significant issue to save the future of Grameen Bank and also to protect the hopes and dreams of the over 8 million borrowers. These borrowers are also the owners of 96.5% of the Bank’s shares. The Bank is connected with 40 million microcredit borrowers in Bangladesh, and its impact on all these people cannot be neglected. What happens to Grameen Bank influences the future of the millions of Bangladeshis who benefit from microcredit activities, as well as the future of the institution of microcredit itself. It is actually a great concern for me, and many others, that I properly fulfill my responsibility to safeguard their future before and after leaving the post of Managing Director of Grameen Bank.

Some have said that, instead of going to the court, it would have been more honorable for me to resign from my position as suggested by the Finance Minister. I do not think so. In that case, the end result would have been the same, so far as my exit is concerned. But I would have suffered from carrying the guilt of knowingly accepting an unexpected proposal and putting the borrowers and their families’ futures at risk. I could not do that.

[caption id="attachment_1665" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Millions of borrowers like the ones seen meeting above could be adversely affected by a government takeover of Grameen Bank."]Millions of borrowers like the ones seen meeting above could be adversely affected by a government takeover of Grameen Bank.[/caption]

Some people felt that I intend to cling to the position of Managing Director of Grameen Bank. But, the nation knows that this position is not my life’s goal. I was, and am, conscious of the fact that my future work will not be based on my holding on to this position, but rather, it would be working with the young generation, from other platforms to address the problem of poverty at home and abroad. I want to do that without jeopardizing the interests of Grameen Bank. This is the thought which prompted me to write the letter to the Honorable Finance Minister one year ago. I suggested two options to him for a transition that could take place without creating any waves within the Bank.  I did not get any response to these proposals.  I was, instead, told to quit. It is, therefore, unfair to me to suggest that I am holding on to the of position of managing director unjustly or to allege  that I am not co-operating in the process of transition.

For the last few months, a section of the media devoted itself fiercely to campaign against me, Grameen Bank, and the concept of microcredit. Everyone has his own explanation why this is happening.

An unfriendly atmosphere is not helpful for a smooth change of leadership
The cause of my concerns, as well as those of the nation and the world, lies here. These concerns are more for Grameen Bank and the future of its millions of borrowers, than for me. For this reason, I have been reminding you repeatedly that undertaking the transition process of Grameen Bank's management in an unfriendly environment will only cause harm to the future of the Bank. I have always wanted to make sure that the transition takes place in a friendly, mutually supportive environment, so that the achievements of Grameen Bank may continue without interruption. There are many issues related to this. The big questions are: whether Grameen Bank can maintain its independent existence, and whether it can be successful in keeping itself away from political influences. What actually happens to financial institutions in our country if political influences start playing a role in these institutions is common knowledge. This experience will not inspire trust in the borrowers.  We all know how important the role of trust is in the operation of Grameen Bank.

Back in Bangladesh

December 14, 2009

Alex Counts is President and CEO of Grameen Foundation, and the author of “Small Loans, Big Dreams: How Nobel Prize Winner Muhammad Yunus and Microfinance are Changing the World” (John Wiley & Sons, 2008). Below is Part Two of this journey to assess the state of microfinance with Grameen Foundation partners worldwide.

[caption id="attachment_305" align="alignleft" width="200" caption="Muhammad Yunus and Alex Counts"]Muhammad Yunus and Alex Counts[/caption]

After a gap of about two years, on December 13, 2009 I returned to Bangladesh – the birthplace of the modern microfinance movement and the country where I spent six of the first nine years after I graduated college.  I came here initially driven by naïve idealism – that someone (especially at my tender age!) could catalyze the spread Grameen Bank’s approach beyond the borders of Bangladesh, so it could to become a global (rather than simply national) anti-poverty strategy.  As I was to learn, even by the time I arrived in December 1988, that process was under way – a process that was much more complex than I had imagined, and one that has been the focus of Grameen Foundation since it was established in 1997.

Inventing another pathway to a world without poverty (Pt 2 of 2)

April 14, 2008

Gordon Starr, Starr ConsultingTransforming the world of global business enterprise

Danone and Grameen are, in fact, changing the game of business. They have created a profit-making enterprise where societal contribution is more important than maximizing profit (a “social business”), and opened the door for other new inventions that move us towards a world without poverty.

What could happen in the world of profit-making business if societal contribution became at least the equal of mazimizing profit in boardrooms throughout the world?

Inventing another pathway to a world without poverty (Pt 1 of 2)

April 07, 2008

Gordon StarrWhat if the enormous power and potential of global business enterprise could become a force for social and environmental transformation just as it has been for the expansion of global commerce?

Grameen Danone – the world’s first “social business” as conceived and presented by Dr. Yunus in his new book – is a brilliant invention. What Grameen and Danone have done with great courage and insight is open the door to a new future – and to a new whole landscape of possibility for creating a world without poverty. And perhaps much more.

Given this first landmark step, what else might now be possible?

For instance, what could happen in the world of profit-making business if “global viability” became the equal of “maximizing profit” in the boardroom?

Social Businesses in China

March 10, 2008

Muhammad Yunnus’ book Banker to the Poor opened my mind to a new type of philanthropy – venture philanthropy – where donations to a Microfinance Institution are loaned out, repaid at an extremely high rate, and then reinvested. The thought that my small donation not only made a significant impact to the loan recipient but also was recycled appealed greatly to my entrepreneurial bent. After all, I wanted my hard-earned cash to be well-spent.

Now the Nobel Laureate has written a new book – Creating a World Without Poverty – which I hope will open the minds of business people around the world as his first book had done for me.

In the United States particularly, we have come to assume that a business’ mission must be to “maximize shareholder value”. Yunus defines these as PMBs, or Profit-Maximizing Businesses. In his new book, he shows us there can be another way, “Social Businesses” which are “cause-driven” instead of profit-driven.

This concept may be seen as radical, or even heretical, because it conflicts with our US point-of-view favoring free market capitalism. In a Stanford VTSS (Values, Technology, Science and Society) class, I learned that changing society’s values is perhaps the hardest and slowest thing of all, often lagging science and technology advancements by 10 or more years. We cling to our values and customs, not necessarily because they are right or the best, but because we are afraid of change; we are comfortable with the status quo.

However, in China, this concept of Social Business is not so radical because the relics of the Communist infrastructure, the State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs), are similar in result, though not in purpose. In other words, SOEs were not created for a socially-minded cause, but they were one of the last social safety nets, the “iron rice bowl.” But due to foreign competitive pressures from China joining the WTO (World Trade Organization), these inefficient dinosaurs are being dismantled and/or restructured, causing millions of workers to be laid off. Currently, China has an estimated 220-300 million people under the poverty line. The poor people are a powerful destabilizing force, and thus the Chinese government strongly supports, and sometimes even demands, businesses to accept social responsibility.

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