Muhammad Yunus: Who’s using Who?

Muhammad Yunus usually has a good comeback line , as Rob Greenland illustrates in his Social Business blog.

Apparently he’s often asked whether he’s been used by corporations to gain access to BOP markets. He responds, typically with mock surprise:  “They’re using me are they? Well, I never knew. I thought I was using them….”

A couple of years back in an earlier interview in London there was an interesting question from a lady in the audience about the problem of mafia.  Her organisation had tried to create a microfinance intiative in Ukraine to discover that most of the money filtered back to organised crime.

I followed up,  to track down the lady who raised the question, given our own interest in microenterprise development in Ukraine. What she didn’t know, was that where they located in Donetsk, is regarded as central HQ for organised crime.  It was also the location  of the orphanage described in our ‘Death Camps, For Children’ article.

Ours was also a non dividend distributing business which tackled  social problems and for us, the big problem was institutional childcare and organised crime which made it a profit maximising exercise.

Raising awareness and leveraging funding presented enormous obstacles, but in 2010, there was hope with the arrival of the Social Business tour in Budapest. Grameen partner Erste Bank were looking for ideas for social business applications:

Do you have a social business idea?

We help you realise it!

Take part in the “The Social Business Idea 2010″ Contest for Central and Eastern Europe and win consultancy services from € 5.000 and more!

I introduced them to our proposal for microeconomic development and social enterprise, the ‘Marshall Plan’

Erste even had a strapline which asked “What if the economy benefited people and not people the economy?” which looked as if it came direct from the white paper on People-Centered Economic Development.

Erste then went silent on us but would appear months later in a joint initiative led by the British Council and USAIDs East Europe Foundation which would displace our 6 years groundwork omitting the major social focus.

When I got around recently to raising this issue through my MP Mark Harper it was confirmed by Martin Davidson of the British Council that partners in this initiative were selected on the basis of being able to make a financial contribution. An illustration of what’s been described as the shadow economy.

For me, proof enough that Yunus is being used and that for with more modest contributors, social investment can’t even be given away.   Being used may well help some people out of poverty,  but if the corporate DNA of that business causes more harm to others than those it helps, it’s difficult to defend this approach.

Erste are now planning to leave a loss making operation in Ukraine.  Like us, I imagine they’ve discovered the hostility of the business environment.  Given how they treated us,  the feeling of  Schadenfreude  is difficult to resist.

The consequences for Ukraine’s Forgotten Children leave me without words.

We however, didn’t give up when the going got tough:

Social Enterprise in Ukraine

2 thoughts on “Muhammad Yunus: Who’s using Who?

  1. Over in washington DC I am doing a survey of which embassies are interested in an association of bottom-up orphanages. It seems to me that colaboration between well grounded localorpanages can become a job creating hub for the surrounding community as well as the youth .I am fascinated for example that the most valued financial literacy curriculum for p-rimary school chuildren aflatoun was developed in an indian street-kids orphanage and now works in nearly 100 countries.

    What is the Ukrainan Embassy’s attitude to your orphanage likely to be and does the british council make some of its orphanage choices better?

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