On Saturday, we were honored to host the father of social business and micro-finance, Professor Muhammad Yunus, for a two-hour dialogue on diversity, empowering women through entrepreneurship and helping society through financially-sustainable, long-term measures.
Professor Yunus’s visit to Stockholm was sponsored by the Postkod Lotteriet, and directly from here he was traveling on to Washington, D.C. where he would be receiving the Congressional Gold Medal. As a testament to his visionary status, he is only one of seven people in history to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and Congressional Gold medal.
Beyond titles and awards, Professor Yunus radiates positive energy and lights up a room. The moment our guests began to arrive, you could sense the way they were drawn to him and the joy he took in interacting with a dynamic array of guests from some of Sweden’s most successful entrepreneurs, CEO’s and venture capitalists to governmental development aid experts from SIDA or two teenage girls from Rinkeby (a suburb outside of Stockholm with a high population of immigrants and political refugees). Our two female students from Rinkeby Akademien, budding entrepreneurs in their own right, made such an impact on the event with the articulate manner they introduced themselves and engaged in the dialogue!
Around a large dining room table, Professor Yunus described the genesis of Grameen Bank and its goal of helping the poorest people lift themselves out of poverty by providing small loans and imparting basic financial principles. Much of Yunus’s work focused on empowering women, so much so that he has been named an honorary woman in Bangladesh, a fact he shared with us smiling gleefully!
Many of our guests had the chance to ask questions ranging from how the micro-finance model can be extended to entrepreneurs in the Islamic world to the digital future of using cell phones as ways to perform ultrasounds or test your eyes in the developing world where in many nations access to nurses and hospitals is sorely lacking. Time and again, Professor Yunus interjected a common theme: one person can make a lasting impact on any social challenge through creativity and sheer determination. When youth unemployment was mentioned, he mischievously looked many of us in the eye around the table and exclaimed: one of you can hire one person, just one, and make a difference!
At a time when social entrepreneurship is the buzzword of the moment, it can be stultifying that Professor Yunus catalyzed the concept and model more than 37 years ago. In fact, he told me that in 1987 he was called up by a Governor from a very poor state in America to try to solve the challenges of poverty through a business model. That man was Governor Bill Clinton and his wife, Hillary, headed up the initiative. Yunus has had a long relationship with Clintons since then, and this is a shining example of the shared values between the U.S. and many of its global partners on the challenges we face today. For me, it was so special to host Professor Yunus in Stockholm because Sweden has such a rich legacy of generosity in development aid and strong core of social justice. What a wonderful evening we all spent being inspired by this great man!
You can see more photos from the event on the US Embassy Flickr page!