Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Laureate and Founder of Grameen Bank

As most of you might know that the International Conference on Technology Enhanced Education (ICTEE – is being held in our Amritapuri campus of Amrita University. I was lucky enough to take part in some of the sessions and talks on the first day of the conference. ICTEE is primarily focusing on bring together leaders, educationists, industry and academia from all parts of the world to discuss and deliberate on finding new ways to expand the current system of education using ICT.

The most interesting part of the first day was, of course, the Presidential address by Dr. Muhammad Yunus. Most of you might know him as the Founder of Grameen Bank and winner of the Nobel peace prize in 2007. Well to meet him in person and hear his experience building Grameen Bank and many other business solutions was inspiring and insightful. Inspiring because, Grameen bank was able to change the lives of millions. Just to give you one example from his speech, the Grameen bank was able to transform the lives of hundred thousand Beggars – from beggers to doorstep salesperson. It is amazing to note his insight into the problems that are faced by the people in villages.

His spoke about his days in the academia, in a University in Bangladesh. There he was shocked to see the state of the people living in the near by villages. That inspired him to become an entrepreneur. Most of his thought process was based on finding out business solutions to the problems. More than once he reiterated the point that all his solutions was primarily a response to needs of the people around him. Well, this is something that we note with the way Amrita works too (all of Amma’s initiatives has been in response to the needs of the people). One of his earliest of initiatives was to help the villagers from the clutches of money lenders. And hence came the idea of micro-credit that paved way for Grameen Bank.

One of his later initiatives was to power up villages using solar power (Grameen Shakti). This was an interesting business solution. To start with it was difficult to sell the idea of owning a solar powered system – mainly because of the high capital and lack of awareness about the long time benefits. Initially they were able to sell only about 4 units per month. This was in the mid 90s. After persevering and constant innovations, now they sell more than 1000 units per day!! His narrative of his experience was straightforward, insightful and to say the least, an inspiring one.

Some of the key factors which helped him were – constantly looking for solutions to problems. They were working with the villagers. The solutions were fully developed for the profit of the villagers. Now, I also remember a very interesting economic side of the problem that he was pointing out. Most of the economic theory says that business is to maximize profits. His experience with all the initiatives has lead him to see this in another dimension. Business has to become economic solutions to the problems faced by people. In one of his experiences, the Grameen bank was trying to help beggers lead a better lives. They were trying to pursue the beggers to change their profession (in his own words – “Change their core business to start a sales division !!). His thought process was that the beggers would anyways go to the houses to beg. If they could be pushed to sell items (such as candies, toys etc…) they would earn even more than that they usual can – along with a better self esteem. Their experiment has lasted over a decade and the results would speak for itself. Grameen bank has touched the lives of 100,000 beggers. Twenty two thousand of them have completely shifted from begging to selling, while the rest are still working on the sales division of their core business.

It was impressive and moving to hear such stories. While living in a country which is blessed with much more than that of our neighboring country, I am inspired to take home the message of innovation and constantly thinking for solutions to the problems of people.

He was also talking about the Grameen Mobile (which has more than half the mobile user base in Bangladesh) which has enabled rural women to earn. These women have since then been known as the “Telephone Ladies” of Bangladesh. Well, his innovation and empathy towards the problems faced by the poor has transformed the lives of millions in Bangladesh and elsewhere. I would consider this to be an opportunity of a life time to have heard this right from the person who is behind the Grameen revolution – a truly inspiring day at ICTEE.

This also makes me think about the immense opportunity that all of us at Amrita has. The first conference ACWR in December gave me lot of inputs on how I could mold my career (thanks to van Steen and others for their inputs). This conference, and especially the talk by Muhammad Yunus has made me think about the social relevance of education and research.