Last week my oldest son graduated from college. The football stadium was full of proud parents, most of whom watched the entire event through a camera lens. On the field, a strange medieval procession was taking place, complete with ancient looking robes, 70 lb pure silver staff, a chaplain and what looked to be a bunch of castles in the background; a typical graduation from a typical old and well-endowed University. That is until Muhammad Yunus took the stage.
I didn’t know much about Professor Yunus until that moment. He was an average looking middle age man, wearing an ill-fitting black gown and a funny looking cap. His voice is soft and he will not be remembered for his great orations. According to the graduating class of 2010 at Duke University, his speech was “yeah, OK, whatever”. For me it was a Revelation; one of those moments that you remember for the rest of your life in great vivid detail. About five minutes into the commencement address, it wasn’t about my boy joining the ranks of educated people and it wasn’t about a parent’s pride and joy of seeing a child graduating with multiple majors and contemplating the great future of graduate school and a well-chosen career path. It was about poverty, hunger and misery everywhere, surrounding this school, these lucky children, on this glorious day, like a mighty ocean around a tiny shiny island.
Muhammad Yunus is out to eradicate poverty. As simple as that. As an economist from Bangladesh, he left his Ivory Towers and discovered a simple truth. Poverty does not reside in the poor. Poverty is arbitrarily imposed by our system on equally talented and creative people, who are denied the opportunities available to the lucky few. Professor Yunus’s life work is to bring those opportunities to the poor. He founded a bank for the poor, owned by the poor and servicing the poor with micro-loans, mainly to women, women who eventually live to witness their own child graduating from college with a professional degree.
Muhammad Yunus calls it a “Social Business” - a business whose purpose is not to amass profits for its founders and shareholders, but instead to better society and solve one social problem; a profitable and sustainable business, not a charity. His Grameen Bank for the poor is thriving in these times of global financial crisis, and expanding to other countries including the US. Muhammad Yunus is proposing to harness the power of the free market to solve the problems of poverty, hunger and inequality. In 2006, Muhammad Yunus was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace for his work.
Why am I writing about this on a Healthcare Technology blog? After Dr. Yunus completed his commencement speech, and after the obligatory standing applause, he returned to the stage as if he forgot to say something, grabbed the microphone and said that he is now using the same principles to bring universal health care to Bangladesh, health care for every person in every village.
As we search for a solution to American Health Care problems and feverishly seek Innovation, Muhammad Yunus may already have the answers. His innovative Social Business approach, his new brand of a more humane form of capitalism, working with and within a free market system, could very well be the elusive missing piece of our own puzzle.
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