WASHINGTON — Just a few days shy of his 75th birthday, Muhammad Yunus talked last week about how “Poverty should be in a museum,” and how he intends to put it there by 2030.
It was the kind of rhetoric Americans are used to hearing from politicians looking for just the right sound bite to make the 6 o’clock news. And it didn’t help that he said it as part of a speech in Washington, just a few blocks from the Capitol.
End poverty? Yeah, we’ll be sure to pencil that in right after we balance the federal budget and retire the national debt.
Except that when Muhammad Yunus says it, even E.F. Hutton ought to shut up and listen. That’s not just because Yunus is one of only seven people who have won the Nobel Peace Prize, the Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. It’s because his ideas work.
E.F. Hutton, the brokerage firm made famous by television ads in which the mere mention of its name made people stop talking and listen, was gobbled up long ago by mergers. Yunus’ ideas just keep growing and multiplying.
They aren’t designed to make the rich feel comfortable, however.
Yunus is the father of microcredit, the idea that you can give extremely small loans to the poorest people on earth, put them in support groups that help them become entrepreneurs, and turn their lives around. He founded a bank on that principle, and it now has $1.5 billion worth of these small loans. More importantly to Yunus, it has more than that in savings, often from one penny at a time.
But people who change the world seldom do so by letting the establishment relax. Microcredit, despite its detractors, is the touchy-feely part of Yunus’ plans.
To succeed, Yunus wants to turn the business world on its head.
“The present economic system is not working,” he said. “It’s based on a selfish model.” That model assumes that humans are motivated to innovate and trade only by their own desires to become rich.