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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Muhammad Yunus battles forced removal from Grameen Bank

"To me, poor people are like bonsai trees.  When you plant the best seed of the tallest tree in a flower pot, you get a replica of the tallest tree, only inches tall.  There is nothing wrong with the seed you planted, only the soil-base that is too inadequate.  Poor people are bonsai people.  There is nothing wrong in their seeds.  Simply, society never gave them the base to grow on.  All it needs to get the poor people out of poverty is for us to create an enabling environment for them.  Once the poor can unleash their energy and creativity, poverty will disappear very quickly."
- Muhammad Yunus

I read this quote on the subway home tonight in the book I'm currently reading,  The Power of Unreasonable People.  I was emotionally struck by the way Yunus weaved these words together into an vivid analogy I could actually visualize;  and the truth behind the analogy tightened the lump in my throat because I understood clearer than ever that humankind has stunted the growth of billions of people.  

While I've seen the numbers and read the facts,Yunus' words helped me internalize the damage done and the power of humans to cause that damage.  And so my next thought was that if we have the wherewithal to cause this much suffering globally, don't we have the same degree of strength to create solutions?

I think we do, we just need to make smarter decisions.

I really didn't intend this post to focus on ways of ending global poverty; I just happened to come across these words on the same day I planned to express my thoughts on Yunus' current legal battle, and felt compelled to share this paradox.  What I really wanted to express is how sad it is that someone as authentic as Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace Prize winner, societal game-changer, writer of the beautiful quote above, could be stripped of the very entity he built from the ground up.

Muhammad Yunus founded Grameen Bank, the world's first microfinance institution, in 1976.  He developed the concept of microfinance and has since built an empire of various Grameen social businesses, such as Grameen Telecom, Grameen Fisheries, and Grameen Danone Foods.  He has created systemic change in his home country of Bangladesh and is a global leader in poverty reduction.  His work has affected millions of people.

Back in March, Yunus was fired from his position as the Director of Grameen Bank by a central bank (government) order.  He was accused of failing to seek the bank's approval when he was reappointed as managing director in 1999.  He was also accused of illegally maintaining his position past the retirement age limit of 60 in Bangladesh.

This legal battle completely blows my mind.  Despite the success (let alone social impact) of Grameen Bank, Bangladesh continues to be a nation consumed by hunger, disease, and extreme poverty.  Did the government really not have more important issues to tackle than to attack the country's most respected individual?  Is there not enough harmful corporate activity taking place every day that the government can work to destroy? T

he wasted effort, time, and money spent on this  fiasco wanes on me and I cannot help but recall the quote "No good deed goes unpunished". I wonder if he feels betrayed by his own country, or if he even cares at all.

I think there is a lesson here for social entrepreneurs:  Perhaps the ones who are driving major global change, the unreasonable people like Muhammad Yunus, realize their visions because they didn't follow all the rules along the way.  And if that's the case, no matter how much good we try to exude in our worlds, there will always be something trying to break us down.  

Ultimately, the learning for social entrepreneurs is to maintain pure resilience and focus on vision, because I predict that even if Muhammad Yunus does not win this unecessary fight, Grameen businesses and the legacy Yunus holds will remain indestructible...and this sets a stellar example for social change actors everywhere.

1 comment:

  1. The only way to stop global poverty as far as I am concerned is for the poor not to have as many children.
    It seems the more affluent people become, the less children they have.
    Even a lot of animals plan their family size.
    Humans can't, so maybe the law should step in.