It takes courage to see things differently, to defend new ideas that challenge the status quo, and to try to change the world. When asked in a recent LA Times article if he was discouraging youth from working under someone else’s directive, Nobel Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus replied, “Yes, obviously. Why should you?” Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for pioneering microfinance, Professor Yunus continues to flip the way the world works on its head and makes it work better. With Grameen Bank, he transformed how we loan money by giving small loans to poor women with no collateral in his fight to eradicate poverty. Before heading to Mexico City for the Global Social Business Summit 2014, Professor Yunus celebrated the official launch of the Los Angeles branch of Grameen America, which received $2.5 million in funding from the California Community Foundation.
This past week I was lucky to present at the research conference for the Global Social Business Summit in Mexico City, made possible by the generous support of Dean Gilliam, the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, and the Department of Urban Planning. Over the summer I worked in Thailand and Myanmar as part of the International Practice Pathways Fellowship. I worked with the Yunus Center at the Asian Institute of Technology (YCA), where I conducted an international online survey to find out what social issues youth experience in their daily lives and how they prioritize social issues on a global scale. This past week I presented my initial findings at a plenary session for a group of academics, entrepreneurs, and change-makers – a direct result of the opportunity allotted to me through the IPP fellowship.
The survey is still in its initial stages, but a preliminary assessment of the responses suggests that all youth are concerned that there are no jobs for them. It is sad to think that on a global scale, youth fear that their potential, their creativity, their future will be stifled by lack of opportunity to participate fully in the workforce. In his opening speech, Nobel Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus challenged our assumptions about life stages and employment, from entry-level to retirement, and encouraged all of us to harness our creative power and break through the limitations we put on ourselves. In particular, he observed how students can sometimes stifle their own innovative expression by seeking to become hirable employees instead of unleashing their own transformative capacity.
Social business is the current effort of Professor Yunus to redefine how money flows by taking two seemingly oxymoronic concepts and putting them together. According to Professor Yunus, social business is a non-loss, non-dividend company, whose primary goal is to solve a social problem. A social business is financially sustainable, meaning it makes profits, and the original investment is fully repaid, meaning those seed monies can get reinvested into other social businesses. Most importantly, those who engage in social business must commit to doing it with joy, an oft-forgotten part of life. So in the spirit of joy, I’ll leave you with a photo of a delicious tres leches cake I ate in Mexico City, but completely tasted like home in Los Angeles.