On Monday, February 10, I was for working reasons in Milan.
In the evening, I randomly walked around the city (following
a M sign, thinking it was Mc Donalds, but it was M like
Metropolitana, the tube).
Close to the Duomo, I read a sign about a conference on
micro credit made by Professor Yunus and I remembered
reading an article about micro credit in some newspaper
(maybe La Repubblica?) ...
I searched for 5 minutes on the map to locate "Teatro dal
Verme" where the conference was scheduled and
rushed to Castello Sforzesco. In front of the theater there
was plenty of police. As I was a little bit late, I decided
for the strategy "walk through as you would know where you
are headed", because I am equipped with a Swiss army knife
and I did not want to be searched and loose the knife and
The entry was free, I came at the top of the stairs of a
huge theater and was very happy to see that what was
happening on the stage was projected on the wall, too.
A young girl, Erica Mu, played her song with a guitar using
a technique which remembered me of an oscillator where the
signal is reinforced by a resonating channel. Then, Paola
Turci played her song "Rwanda" which is never broadcasted on
the radio, unfortunately. And Paola is a famous Italian
A world without poverty
Professor Yunus came on the stage followed by a train of
photographers, and explained the principles of micro credit
with these words.
"I looked at how a conventional bank works" - he said - "
and I did exactly the opposite!" He explained: "First, a
conventional bank lends only to rich people, and the richer
the more they lend. We lend to the poor people, the poorer,
the more we lend. Secondly, a conventional bank lend to men.
We lend to women :-)"
He then added "Conventional banks build their buildings in
the center of the city, we build our banks in the villages,
not in the cities. Customers have to go to the bank, we go
to our customers. And conventional banks lend huge amounts
of money, we lend only little amounts".
He then recalled a poor woman who received from Yunus 30$ as
a credit. She was trembling as she never had touched money
in her life. So, she kindly denied, but Yunus insured her
that she would pay back only if the eggs of the hen she
would buy would give her some kind of return. Yunus soon
learned that poor people are honest, they pay back if only
they can! (Ehm, just by side as my humble remark: can we say
the same of very rich people when they generously decide
about their own bonus?)
These principles were the spark to build the Grameen bank,
which is a micro credit foundation that helped many
Bangladesh people to come out of poverty. With many, we say
more than 100 million.
Another fundamental thought in Yunus is that being poor does
not mean at all being stupid or less in any way than someone
who is rich. In the speech he explained that he was
delighted when he met the daughter of a poor woman which had
nothing, who managed to become a physician respected by the
whole village. Everyone is intelligent and can come out of
poverty, if the system does not prevent him to do so.
He extended the concept of micro credit to education and
helped students in funding their studies. However, when
students finished their education, they came to him and
said: "Yunus, unfortunately, there are no jobs where I could
apply what I hardly learned!".
Yunus explained them, that they should not stand up each
morning and think about job seeking, they are powerful
enough to think about job giving, to create companies and to
In particular, if a student had a good idea, Yunus
encouraged him to leave the study and establish his own
company. A diploma is a mere piece of paper which gets
meaningless if there are no jobs in the economy.
In one of his experiments which keeps running, professor
Yunus gave beggars small useful things (like lighters and
similar) and asked them instead of begging on the same
place, to walk house by house and try to sell these things.
Yunus feared beggars did not feel motivated, but he was
wrong: they were very happy to act as traveling salesmen.
Yunus allowed them to beg in case they were not able to sell
"Funnily enough, as time went by, beggars knew exactly which
houses were good to sell things, and which ones were good to
beg. Even if they did not own a master degree at Harvard,
beggars understood the concept of market segmentation very
well!", he added.
In his talk, Yunus criticized the neo-liberal thinking and
questioned the principle that being selfish makes everyone
richer. This attitude is one of the reasons of the current
financial crisis. Yunus believes that being selfish is fine
and is related to the instinct of conservation, but it does
not have to become a reason of life. Everyone likes to help
others and gains positive feelings about it.
In this sense, he called big companies to "social
responsibility". With Danone, he created a particular cheap
yogurt and marketed it in Bangladesh. A little child that
eats for several months this yogurt will not suffer of some
of the diseases created by malnutrition. With Adidas, he
tries to sell cheap shoes that prevent people to go round
barefoot and catch other diseases. These are challenges were
profit is not the focus, the focus is something like
"create a good cheap shoe for less than 1$". And of course,
the image of such responsible companies help them in the
Professor Yunus looks very young for his age, he is 70! And
he keeps creating this kind of positive powerful never
ending cycles :-)
Finally, an example to say how real the thing might get: I
got as a gift for my little child born at the beginning of
January a band to carry her around. On the package
containing the band, there was a little round stick saying
Einstein radically upset the way scientists looked at
physics, Yunus will radically change the way we understand
micro and macroeconomics.
More on Professor Yunus can be found on wikipedia at