Nobel laureate brings Bangladesh business model to Europe
Sunday November 8, 2009, 7:19 am
WOLFSBURG, Germany (AFP) - Nobel peace laureate Muhammad Yunus brought ideas for creating micro "social businesses" from Bangladesh to Europe Saturday with support from several of the world's leading corporations.
Yunus, who won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for developing micro-credits that allow poor people to start companies, said the global economic crisis had given the world "an opportunity to reflect and redesign" business models.
"All business does not have to be done only to maximize profit, there can be other businesses, businesses aimed exclusively at solving problems," he said in Wolfsburg, northern Germany, home of Europe's biggest carmaker, Volkswagen.
In addition to hosts VW and Grameen Creative Lab, food giant Danone, global water group Veolia, sportswear maker Adidas, professional software firm SAP, Kyushu University of Japan and Colombia's Caldas region were also represented.
Yunus, a co-founder of the Grameen Creative Lab, believes social businesses can unite public sector and charity goals with the dynamics of an enterprise.
"If you can find out how to solve the problem of six unemployed people, you have designed something which can solve the problem of six million unemployed people, because the same thing can be repeated," he explained.
"The issue is how fast we can get out of poverty," a goal the group wants to reach by 2030 in both the developing world and advanced economies, Yunus added.
Unlike charities, social businesses aim for financial independence and reinvest profits instead of paying dividends.
Several corporations have formed subsidiaries to work with Grameen, with two examples being a yoghurt factory and a water purification plant in Bangladesh.
Grameen is a Bengali word for village, and suggests "that big projects may start small," according to the German-based Grameen Creative Lab.
Grameen is also the name of the bank the Nobel laureate started in Bangladesh which has almost eight million borrowers and eight billion dollars in loans, lifting many of its borrowers out of poverty.
The Grameen Creative Lab's other founder and director Hans Reitz said his group is experimenting in Germany with business loans to 15- and 16-year-old school children to show them they could later be self-employed.
Making cakes, candles and music CDs allowed German and immigrant youth to "start a small business and create an identity," he said.
"You can create a job for others, you don't have to wait to have a job," Reitz stressed as the eurozone struggles to reduce unemployment that is tipped to hit 10.9 percent by 2011.
Danone representative Emmanuel Faber described a future project in Paris to have 300 people deliver dairy products to shops on electric-powered bicycles.
The workers would be former prisoners or others faced with marginal living situations, and the plan would cut carbon dioxide emissions from delivery vans and boost distribution of Danone products, he said.
It illustrated "new ways of working that social business has driven into the mainstream way of Danone doing business," Faber explained.
"If you're thinking about your company for the next quarter, you should not enter social business, if you are thinking about your company for the next 50 years, you should definitely be thinking about it," he said.