Reconfiguring the World

Muhammad Yunus, Bangladesh

Founder, Grameen Bank, which helps the world's poorest, especially women, improve their lives and escape poverty by providing them with access to small loans, essential information, and viable business opportunities.

(Submitted by The Office of Muhammad Yunus)

We get what we want, or what we don’t refuse. We accept the fact that we will always have poor people around us, and that poverty is part of human destiny. This is precisely why we continue to have poor people around us. If we firmly believed that poverty was unacceptable to us, and that it should not belong to a civilized society, we would have built appropriate institutions and policies to create a poverty-free world.

We wanted to go to the moon, so we went there. We achieve what we want to achieve. If we are not achieving something, it is because we have not put our minds to it. We create what we want.

Reconfiguring our mindset
What we want and how we get to it depends on our mindsets. It is extremely difficult to change mindsets once they are formed. We create the world in accordance with our mindset. We need to invent ways to change our perspective continually and reconfigure our mindset quickly as new knowledge emerges. We can reconfigure our world, if we can reconfigure our mindset.

I believe that we can create a poverty-free world because poverty is not created by poor people. It has been created and sustained by the economic and social system that we have designed for ourselves; the institutions and concepts that make up that system; the policies that we pursue.

Poverty is caused by failure at the conceptual level
Poverty is created because we built our theoretical framework on assumptions which underestimate human capacity, by designing concepts which are too narrow (such as concepts of business, credit-worthiness, entrepreneurship, employment) or by developing institutions which remain half-completed (such as financial institutions, where the poor are left out). Poverty is caused by failure at the conceptual level, rather than any lack of capability on the part of people.

We can create a poverty-free world
I firmly believe that we can create a poverty-free world if we collectively believe in it. In a poverty-free world, the only place you would be able to see poverty would be in poverty museums. When schoolchildren took a tour of the poverty museums, they would be horrified to see the misery and indignity that some human beings had had to go through. They would blame their forefathers for having tolerated this inhumane condition, which existed for so long, for so many people.

A human being is born into this world fully-equipped
A human being is born into this world fully-equipped, not only to take care of him- or herself, but also to contribute to enlarging the well-being of the world as a whole. Some get the chance to explore their potential to some degree, but many others never get any opportunity during their lifetime to unwrap the wonderful gift they were born with. They die unexplored and the world remains deprived of their creativity, and their contribution.

Grameen Bank has given me an unshakable faith in the creativity of human beings. This has led me to believe that human beings are not born to suffer the misery of hunger and poverty.

Poor people are like bonsai trees
To me, poor people are like bonsai trees. When you plant the best seed of the tallest tree in a flowerpot, you get a replica of the tallest tree, only inches tall. There is nothing wrong with the seed you planted, only the soil-base that is too inadequate. Poor people are bonsai people. There is nothing wrong in their seeds. Simply, society never gave them the base on which to grow. All it needs to get poor people out of poverty is for an enabling environment to be created for them. Once the poor can unleash their energy and creativity, poverty will disappear very quickly.

Reprinted by kind permission of the Office of Muhammad Yunus. From his Nobel Lecture, December 10th, 2006. © The Nobel Foundation 2006.

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