Muhammad Yunus, the recently announced 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner and founder of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, did an interview that was recently published in Ode Magazine. Here are a few of his quotes:
“What all these pop stars and politicians want, is the usual recipe: charity. But charity is not the way to help people in need; it is not a healthy basis for a relationship between people. If you want to solve poverty, you have to put people in a position to build their own life. Unfortunately, this is not how the aid industry works. Western governments and development organizations think they need to offer permanent charity. As a result, they keep entire economies in poverty and families in an inhuman situation.”
“The approach [many take] to poverty is thwarted by our fixed convictions. Poor people are helpless, unhealthy, illiterate and thus stupid, they have nothing, they know nothing, we must take care of them, we must give them food… It is completely wrong to think like this. I am convinced that poor people are just as human as anyone else. They have just as much potential as anyone. They are simply shoved into a box marked POOR! And it’s written in giant letters so that everyone simply treats them the way poor people are treated, because we think this is the way we should treat them. This means it isn’t easy to get out of the box.”
This is definitely a very different way of thinking than the current establishment players/experts who claim to serve the poor — e.g. Jeffrey Sachs, the U.N., Bono, Clinton, Blair and many others. Yet Yunus’ success in building one of the world’s most successful banks for the poor gives him the authority to challenge the status quo thinking. Yunus is by no means some neo-conservative touting some theory that sounds great but has no on-the-ground substance. Rather he is a practitioner who is much more interested in ways to actually bring opportunity to those who have been denied it by the current powers and systems.
I find this thinking very personally challenging as some much of the lens that I look through towards solving poverty (however incrementally enlightened I may have become in the past few years ;-) still includes a large dose of charity thinking. I keeping thing, “yes, but…” Hmmm… good food for thought and implications for the road forward.
Read the interview and share your comments.