“The Covid is our great opportunity to create a more just world”

The “banker of the poor” believes that the pandemic offers us the opportunity to change an economic system that is based on self-interest for one that is based on the collective good

Muhammad Yunus is an optimist as there are few. And the pandemic has not undermined his hopeful outlook on life, despite the criticism he has received in recent years.

The Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, promoter and creator of one of the most universally known (and at the same time questioned) tools to combat poverty – microcredits or small loans to the most vulnerable, an initiative that materialized at the Grameen Bank almost ago. 40 years – believes that the coronavirus has led us to an abyss necessary to “change the world and not turn back.”

The “banker of the poor” says that we need a new economic system away from capitalism that makes altruism a more powerful creative force than the self-interest on which our current system is based.

Beyond his controversial microfinance system, the Bangladeshi economist believes that we should aspire to a world of three zeros : an economy of zero poverty, zero unemployment and zero net carbon emissions. Only then, says Yunus, we will achieve “an emerging system that can save humanity and the planet.”

But how feasible is this new economic model and how is it developing in the context of the crisis caused by the pandemic, which some predict as one of the worst in history?

From his home library in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Yunus answered these and other questions from BBC Mundo, in an interview that is part of our digital coverage of Hay Arequipa 2020, where the social entrepreneur will address issues related to his vision of a world fairer.

His work on microfinance proposed putting some measures on the international agenda to reinvent access to finance for the poorest. But inequality continues to rise and the pandemic has increased it: according to the UN, the COVID has pushed millions of people around the world into deeper poverty. What is your vision on this and what can we do?

Every crisis is an opportunity to get the best out of ourselves, our abilities and creativity, and at the same time a challenge.

The pandemic has slowed down the economic machinery and a huge number of actions and initiatives have emerged to return to the pre-pandemic situation, to the economy of before. We do not like what is happening and we are anxious to return. But the question is: why are we so eager to return to that economy? I would not want to go back to it.

I think we come from a terrible system and that the coronavirus, in a way, has saved us from it because it has stopped the machinery. This can favor, among other things, the fight against global warming, which is urgent because we have less and less time and, in fact, the countdown has already begun.

Why would we want to return to a world that we will destroy in a few years? It’s suicidal, a train about to derail.

Greta thunberg
Yunus, a fervent ecologist, believes that the new generations have to trust in their possibilities to change the world.

The same occurs with the distribution of global wealth, in the hands of 1% of the population. What kind of system have we built? It is a situation on the verge of exploding that makes people feel more and more angry and wonder why they work so hard while a few continue to accumulate all the wealth.

The course must be changed. Now we have the perfect opportunity to ask ourselves how to do it. The answer is not to return to the world of before, but to create a new one. And the pandemic has given us an opportunity to redesign the system.

Think of it as if it were software: first you decide where you want to go, what you want to achieve, and then you design the system, not the other way around. The problem is that we keep telling ourselves that the economic system we have now is the best possible, but it is not.

In his book “A world of three zeros” (2018) he talks about an alternative economy. What are its pillars and what is wrong when applying it?

We must redesign the system ensuring a new economy of three zeros: zero poverty, zero unemployment and zero net carbon emissions. And we know how to do it. The problem is that we are too lazy and we are very comfortable in the system that we have, we do not want to leave our comfort zone.

It is like an obese person gaining more and more weight, knowing that they must diet and exercise, but they prefer not to and their health suffers. We also know what we have to do, but we don’t do it.

That is why we must take advantage of this great opportunity that the pandemic offers us to create a fairer world, now that the train, which was about to derail, has stopped.

One of the expressions we hear the most lately is the return to the “new normal”. What do you think about that concept?

Well, it doesn’t make any sense! In the first place, I would say that we did not come from a “normal” situation – is the destruction of the planet normal? – it is an abnormal situation. Our “house” is burning and we have nowhere to take refuge, that cannot be normal. And we have a financial system that distributes wealth in the hands of a few and that is based on the fact that the more we have, the more we want.

So the word normal is totally inappropriate. We call it that because we are used to it, but it is not.

I propose that instead of that we seek normality. We have to create a world that is normal. A world in which we distribute wealth among all and not just among a few, among many other things.

Let’s talk about that “normality”. You have repeatedly highlighted the role of the new generations in building a world that does not continue to perpetuate poverty. How can young people change a system that has centuries of history?

The older we get, the more solidified our mind becomes and the less prone we are to changes in the system. That is why young people have a super important role, because thinking differently is easier when one is young.

You have all the power to challenge the system and you have to do it soon.

Muhammad Yunus
Capitalism, says the Nobel, has become a religion that we must renounce.

On the other hand, this generation of young people is the most powerful in history. Technology is so powerful… each one of you is very powerful, it is in your hands to change the world! The problem is that they have gotten used to their comfort zone, like their parents. And now they say that previous generations have stolen their future, but they are not challenging it, they are not thinking about how you can change it yourself.

However, in that message of “our future has been stolen” there is a struggle for change. They are already having more clear in their heads what the world they want to live in is like. They need to take action and be aware that they can redesign the system to achieve that world of three zeros (zero poverty, zero unemployment and zero net carbon emissions).

But how to change an entire system in the midst of a global crisis and when, as you say, we are running out of time?

There are two key points. The first is to realize that our world is ruled by profit maximization, which has become a global religion that we must renounce. Capitalism has turned us into money-making machines; interprets the human being only from his egoism, as beings that move solely for their own interest. I think that interpretation is wrong.

Yes, we are driven by self-interest but also by collective interest, which is a much larger part that makes us human. Economics cannot define us only by self-interest.

The second part is to create a new type of economy based on collective interest and social entrepreneurship to help those who need it most. We must challenge the current system, which is based on personal gain, and give preference to social businesses, created and designed to address social problems; start by undertaking social businesses, no matter how small, that contribute to change.

What would be the key to this change for you?

The most important thing is the ideas, the entrepreneurship. That is what is going to define the future of humanity.

And there is another attribute that I consider extremely important: imagination. Imagine the world you want to live in. Everything that happens in the world is because someone already imagined it before and then wondered how to make it possible. That is why imagination is the key to entrepreneurship.

All human beings are born with the ability to be entrepreneurs, but our educational system made us think that it is better to work for others. And therein lies the problem because human beings need to use their creativity.

Our mission is to discover how far that creativity and all the potential we have to redesign the world can take us, which is a lot.

Women in Bangladesh from Grameen Bank
Microcredit is the granting of small loans to people living in poverty, unable to qualify for traditional bank loans. Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for promoting this type of economy.

This article forms part of the digital version of the Hay Festival Arequipa 2020 , a gathering of writers and thinkers that is done and between 2 8 D and October and 8 November .

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *