On a recent visit to Bengaluru, Prof Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Laureate and ‘banker to the poor’ spoke to a select gathering on the economics of social business, where Artificial Intelligence (AI) is heading, and why education needs to focus on creating entrepreneurs.
Prof Yunus established the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh in 1983, fuelled by the belief that credit is a fundamental right. His objective was to help the poor escape from poverty by providing them small loans and teaching them to be financially independent. Prof Yunus believes that, by nature, we are all entrepreneurs. “We need more young people to come up with ideas. Everyone has a business idea. We have shown it effectively in Bangladesh where illiterate women with just Rs 2,000-5,000 can become entrepreneurs,” he said.
He elaborated on the need for specialised banks for the poor. “We need to create a new legislation for such banks that should be focussed on social business to solve problems and not make money.”
He, however, warned of the consequences arising out of the concentration of wealth in fewer hands and with a few countries. “One percent of the population holds 99 percent of the wealth of the entire world. The situation is getting worse by the day, with a lot of frustration among young people.”
The Father of Microfinance spoke extensively on how AI and smart technology are taking over lives and becoming dangerous for humankind. When asked whether it’s just a doomsday conspiracy, he articulated the reasons for his fears. “Machines have become smarter, and smarter. They will soon look at human beings as some kind of cockroaches on this planet who are doing nothing. Yes, doomsday is coming. I wrote an opinion piece recently that human beings would not survive this century and one of the reasons is AI. A lot of people will lose their jobs and human beings will not be needed anymore.”
So is there no way out of this conundrum, as one cannot perceive a world without technology? “Take technology as a blessing. AI is very smart, so use it wisely with restrictions and guidelines, channel and harness it in sectors like healthcare where it can make a huge difference, for prevention and analysis. But the direction it is taking now is terrible,” he opined.
Prof Yunus believes we should all wear a bifocal lens when it comes to social business. “I wouldn’t want to mix profitability with social enterprise. I would keep them separate. Then you would have to explain how much of social you have in your business and how much of profit. Big businesses will not answer this question because they don’t know. But they use this concept to persuade that they are the ‘good guys’ without revealing that they are probably doing only one percent on the social front. So if you want to do both, keep it separate.”
He took this thought further with an idealistic explanation, that’s also perhaps the driving force behind his different initiatives. “Human beings should be driven by empathy; we need selflessness. I am not saying don’t talk money. Have a bifocal lens and also see the social problems around you and provide solutions.”