World Chambers Congress

Nobel laureate challenges World Chambers Congress delegates to rid world of poverty

  • 5 July 2007

Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, the charismatic founder of Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, today told delegates attending the 5th World Chambers Congress that global poverty could be eradicated easily and that business people could play a vital role by creating “social businesses” or projects whose principal aim is to achieve a social good.

Mr Yunus and his bank, an example of a “social business,” have helped improve the lives of over 7 million impoverished Bangladeshis by supplying them with small loans to start businesses. The success of Mr Yunus’s microcredit programme, which has earned him the title of “banker to the poor”, has become a model for 175 countries around the world who have adopted similar programmes.

During a press conference at the congress this morning, Mr Yunus and Rifaat Hisarciklioglu, President of the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey (TOBB), announced that they would set up a microcredit centre in Turkey and that Mr Yunus would give lectures at Turkish universities in order to help spread the benefits of microcredit and social businesses to Turkey.

The 5th World Chambers Congress is co-hosted by the International Chamber of Commerce’s (ICC) World Chambers Federation and the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey.

Speaking with quiet passion to a standing room only plenary session at the congress, Mr Yunus said that poverty is a result of the social systems and institutions the world has created, but that it could be eliminated by changing the system.

“All human beings have entrepreneurial instincts, even the very poor,” he said. “We need to create a society that gives everyone the opportunity to develop their entrepreneurial abilities.” As an example, he described a project he started in Bangladesh that turned beggars into door-to-door salesmen by providing them with small loans to purchase useful products that they could sell, instead of asking for handouts.

“Charity will never solve the problem of poverty,” Mr Yunus said. “When combined, India, Bangladesh, China and Indonesia make up half of the world’s population, but represent only 10% of the world’s wealth. We cannot sustain a world without looking at the people on the bottom and lifting them out of poverty.”

Mr Yunus said companies must re-think the way they do business to focus more on solving the problems of their local community and less on maximizing profits. He stressed that this should be done in a business way, not in a philanthropic way. As an example, he described a project launched by Danone and Grameen Bank in Bangladesh that sells low-cost yogurt packed with vitamins to help solve the problem of child malnourishment.

Mr Yunus received a standing ovation at the end of the plenary session.

Speaking at the press conference, ICC Secretary General Guy Sebban said: “ICC has been promoting trade and entrepreneurship as ways to improve the lives of people around the world since it was founded in 1919. We have also been working closely with the United Nations and companies to achieve the UN Millenium Development Goals. Mr Yunus’s initiative is a concrete example of how business can help reduce poverty and his views will contribute greatly to our congress.”

Earlier this year, Mr Yunus met with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He also addressed the country’s parliament to discuss microfinancing opportunities in Turkey, where he said 19 million people living in poverty in the country could see reason for hope.

The 5th World Chambers Congress in Istanbul has set new attendance records: 1,600 chamber of commerce executives and business leaders from 118 countries are participating, doubling attendance since the last congress in Durban in 2005. Delegates this year come from war-torn countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Sudan, as well as from a wide range of developing and developed economies including Brazil, China, Finland, India, Iran, Japan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Togo, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, the United States, Venezuela, Vietnam and Zambia.