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Striving for a better tomorrow

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'Not waiting for anybody” is the real message of social business

“Don’t say we can’t do anything. That’s not an option. Say we have to do something. The world is yours.” These were the words of Nobel Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus, at the closing session of the 9th Social Business Day n Bangkok, Thailand on June 29, as he encouraged the young people to use their unlimited creative power for the betterment of the world getting involved in social business.

Prof Yunus said the children and young people are full of unlimited creative power which needs to be harnessed. Encouraging the young people to think big and discover themselves, he said, “You have the power to compete, to overcome odds. Whatever you are currently doing, your creative power is still there. Use that power to make a social business.”

Terming social business a problem-solving venture, he said “not waiting for anybody” is the real message of social business. Highlighting the existing global problems, the Bangladeshi pioneer of the microfinance model said same road leads to the same destination and new roads need to be built to reach new destination.

He said there is a need for a bigger social business tree as time is running out to save the planet from disaster. “That's an alternative we’re suggesting,” he said.

Chief Executive Officer of Thailand’s CP Group Suphachai Chearavanont, founder of Grameen Creative Lab Hans Reitz, Managing Director of Grameen Telecom Trust Parveen Mahmud and Grameen Shakti Managing Director Sohel Ahmed, among others, spoke at various sessions on the closing day.

They spoke about social business challenges, necessity of innovative power in social business and importance of sustainable business models. They shed light on why social business needs to have the best people making it pure, joyful and beautiful business overcoming all the challenges and difficulties.

The 9th Social Business Day was held over two days, June 28 & 29, at the Centara Grand & Bangkok Convention Centre, Central World jointly organised by Yunus Centre, Dhaka, Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) and Kasetsart University, Thailand.

This year, the theme was “Making Money is Happiness, Making Other People Happy is Super Happiness”.

Panel discussions addressed a myriad of topics in relation to the social business ecosystem ranging from food and agriculture, deforestation, green energy to education, health, technology, sports as well as culture and arts.

Some 1,500 delegates from 59 countries - 80 delegates from Japan alone, 30 from China and 50 from Taiwan, attended the two-day event. This was the biggest international gathering of social businesses till date, organisers said. The first one was held in 2010 in Dhaka.

The second and last day of the Social Business Day brought out several major announcements and plenary sessions on “social business and sports” as well as “challenges in social business”. There were eight country forums where delegates from Bangladesh, Thailand, SAARC, China, Australia and Malaysia (combined), Philippines, Japan and Europe discussed challenging issues pertaining to their nation and  how social business can provide solutions that could help in eradicating them.

Making sense of ‘Social feeling’

Professor Yunus, who enjoys rock star status in these circles, during the opening session on June 28 shared his thoughts on "super happiness" encouraging his global audience to join hands for creating a new civilization based on "social feeling, sharing and caring" coming out from the existing greed-driven civilization.

"Let's transform the society, nation and the world," he said expressing much hope about the desired change with young generation ready to take the challenge. Talking about often misunderstood of happiness, Prof Yunus said happiness should not be measured by money or bank balance as it is a crude way of looking at happiness.

"More money, more happiness- it's a very wrong way of looking at happiness," he said.

Terming the current global economic model the real culprit for greed-driven civilization, Prof Yunus said it damages society fundamentally by discarding the purpose of the whole society. He cited environmental degradation, massive migration and wealth concentration globally as the outcome of the current system pushing people to become money-making robots.

"We want to bring social dimension into the centre of economics avoiding profits maximizing tendency which is not helpful to the society," Prof Yunus said.

He said human beings are packed with unlimited creative power that can transform the society and create a world that they want. Shedding lights on sports, Prof Yunus said Paris 2024 is going to a Social Business Olympics for the first time.

"The serious issue is coming up fundamentally changing the whole idea of Olympics. So, sports and International Olympic Committee, together long way to go."

On the environmental front, Prof Yunus said there is a message of urgency and they do not have much time to protect the planet. "We’ve to act very quickly. Otherwise, we may not exist on this planet."

He said it is a challenge for all to make sure all people survive with "dignity and glory" leaving behind the "stupid past."

Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific (UNESCAP) and Mechai Viravaidya, Chairman, Mechai Viravaidya Foundation, Father Enzo Fortunato Spokeperson and Communication Director of The Holy Convent of Papal Basilica of Assisi, AIT President Dr Eden Y Woon and Secretary General of Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre Rear Admiral Somkeart Ponprayoon, among others, spoke at the opening ceremony of the event. Yunus Centre Executive Director Lamiya Morshed delivered the welcome speech.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai, Director General of Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN Jose Graziano da Silva and International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, among others, sent video messages on the occasion. Delegates from across the world shared their experiences encouraging social business activists, supporters, partners, and investors.

Panel discussions were designed on a range of topics related to the social business ecosystem ranging from food and agriculture, deforestation, green energy to education, health, technology, sports, culture and arts.

Social Business Day is an annual event of experience sharing and goal setting for social business activists, supporters, partners, and investors and getting ready for the coming years.

International and local social business activists, corporates and social leaders, leading NGOs, students, innovators and early adopters of the social business philosophy that looks to tackle socio economic problems at their core to update themselves on the social business frontier attended the event.

It also creates an opportunity for participants to engage in different plenary sessions and workshops, broaden the social business network and gain a holistic understanding of the operational, financial system that drives social businesses globally, say organisers.

Notable plenary speakers included Corinne Bazina, General Manager, Danone Communities, France, Noppadol Dej-Uddom, Chief Sustainability Officer CP Group & Vice President of the Executive Committee, True Corporation, Thailand, Eric Lesueur, Chief Executive Officer, 2EI-VEOLIA, France, Dr. Nico Rose, Professor, International School of Management, Dortmund, Germany, Juergen Nagler, Co-Founder of the United Nations Transformation Network and Happiness Researcher, Enzo Cursio, Coordinator, FAO Nobel Alliance for Food Security and Peace and OPC, Food and Agriculture, Claire Lyons, Senior Strategist, International Partnership, Water.org, Amy Dahmen Co-Founder of Kabubu, Ge Yang, Paralympic Gold Medal Winner, France, Pierre-Antoine Lefevre, Manager of Social Business Initiatives, Peace & Sport.

‘Lamp of Peace’

News broke during the event that Vatican City, the papal state, will honour Prof Muhammad Yunus with the ‘Lamp of Peace’, an award exclusively given to honour those who work towards promoting peace and harmony. Pope Francis has invited Nobel Laureate Prof Yunus to the Economic Summit in Spring 2020.

Father Enzo Fortunato, Spokesperson and Communication Director of The Holy Convent of Papal Basilica of Assisi, representing Vatican, invited Prof Yunus on behalf of Pope Frances and made the announcement on the first day of the two-day 9th Social Business Day.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres sent a video message which highlighted the need for social business globally if they are to tackle the most pressing needs of all communities.

Jose Graziano da Silva, Director General, Food & Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, talked about FAO’s collaboration with Prof Yunus in community and economic empowerment.

Thomas Bach, President, International Olympic Committee (IOC), thanked Prof Yunus in acting as a mentor for Olympic athletes in becoming social business entrepreneurs.

Hans Reitz, Co-Founder, Grameen Creative Lab announced the Global Social Business Summit 2019 to be held later this year in November.

There were nine panel discussions and two plenary sessions on topics that ranged from ‘Food and Agriculture in the Context of Environment and Hunger” moderated by Eric Campos, Managing Director, Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation, France; “Education: Purpose, Technology, Methodology’, ‘Corporates in Social Business: How to get traction, What is Missing?’, ‘Solving social business problems through technology’, youth leadership education and technology, food and agriculture in the context of environment and hunger, getting traction from corporates in social business, youth leadership and microfinance and other forms of financing in social business.

A panel discussion on ‘Art and Culture to bring Social Change through Social Business’ was moderated by Monica Yunus, Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director, Sing for Hope.

Sport: A strong unifying power

Speakers at the panel discussion have suggested harnessing the strong unifying power of sports for community building and empowerment. They said nobody can plan a major sporting event without thinking about the after-effects of the event.

An estimated seven billion euros is being spent around Paris 2024 where a conscious effort is being placed to facilitate the growth of social business.

Pierre-Antoine Lefevre, Manager of Social Business Initiatives of Peace & Sport, spoke about how peace building activities can be combined with values of sports.

The Social Business in Sports plenary session, moderated by Yoan Noguier, Yunus Sports Hub, Co-Founder & Director, was held at the Centara Grand & Bangkok Convention Centre, Central World. Six speakers participated in the session including Marie Barsacq, Impact and Legacy Director, Paris 2024, Elisa Yavchitz, General Manager, Les Canaux and Ge Yang, Paralympic Gold Medal Winner.

Art: A great tool to raise awareness

Among other prominent announcements, one was about an opera based on Professor Yunus’ work and life called “27 dollari” presented by Paola Samoggia, an Italian composer, representing the Italian National Singers Association.

“Art can be a great tool to raise awareness on social issues by using a more emotional form of communication. Italian form of communication makes hearts beat together. Our super happiness is music. Our next step is making a DVD of our operatic performance that is inspired by social business,” she said.

“The biggest and most diverse yet”

A statement from Yunus Centre described it as “the biggest and most diverse social business day yet.”

In the Pecha Kucha sessions, four presenters highlighted their projects. Notable presenters included Marie Barsacq, Impact & Legacy Director, Paris 2024 and Elisa Yavchitz, Manager, Les Canaux who spoke about the sourcing tool Esse2024 for the Olympics Event in Paris. Esse2024 acts as a sourcing tool for social and environmental catalyst for social businesses to scale up, acts as a sourcing tool for social business entrepreneurs through which 25% of the games’ market is channelled to small businesses and social work. It will also monitor and share information about Paris 2024’s market and social business strategies and track and report social and environmental impact of the games. Lastly the tool would help social businesses in their bidding requirements and legal aid services for the event as well.

Professor Cam Donaldson, Yunus Chair, Glasgow Caledonian University spoke about the growth of academic research and best practises around social business development. Erasmus+ is one possible avenue for advocating for more resources in this regard. Lamiya Morshed Executive Director Yunus Centre commented on the proliferation of Yunus Social Business Centres globally and discussed how entities can get in touch to set up their own centres. Gao Zhan, President, Co-founder, Grameen China discussed about how microcredit and social business activities are changing the cultural fibre of the pro poor population in his country. They are working with major stakeholders in the community like China Construction bank and plan to reach out to 4000 low income beneficiaries. Tasnima Islam, Director for Strategic Ventures and Partnership, Yunus Social Business (YSB), in her Global YSB Overview showcased YSB’s reach to nearly 9 million people at the bottom of the pyramid in three continents, 61 social businesses and helping more than 1800 social entrepreneurs globally.

A plenary session on the challenges of social business was held where Noppadol Dej-Uddom, Chief Sustainability Officer, CP Group & Vice President of the Executive Committee, True Corporation; Eric Lesueur, Chief Executive Officer, 2EI-VEOLIA and Sohel Ahmed, Managing Director, Grameen Shakti were present. Challenges such as providing WHO standard drinking water globally while conducting a social business around it still remain a daunting challenge. Hans Reitz, Founder of Grameen Creative Lab proposed a question “what if we can agree that any business regarding access to water for underprivileged communities can only be a social business? Can it ever be done?” Luciano Gurgel, Investment Director of Yunus Social Business (YSB) Brazil mentioned that regulatory infrastructure around the world is not conducive for social businesses development and needs to change.

The initiative in Colombia mentioned earlier, in partnership with local Colombian and international corporations, universities and NGOs support aims to provide for 10 social businesses that impacts 200,000 people and create income opportunities for 5000 people in conflict affected areas as well as set up Yunus Social Business Centres.

Enzo Cursio, Coordinator, UN-FAO Nobel Alliance for Food Security and Peace, the point person in the Central African Republic social business initiative, then said “There is no peace without food security and there is no food security without peace”. The work centres around reintegrating former military combatants, who are also religious minorities, into the community by providing them access to social business training, incubation programmes and working with twenty five agri-business companies.

It is perhaps appropriate to end as we started, with the words of the man who serves to inspire so many, Prof Yunus himself:

“You have the power to compete. To overcome odds and make sure you are at the top. Whatever you are currently doing, your creative power is still there. Use that creative power to make a social business. A business to solve our social problems. Regardless of who you are you can be an entrepreneur too. It does not mean you have to give up entrepreneurship. You have a special quality. Discover yourself. The real you. Let it come out. Do it with joy. Trust me you will enjoy it. You will have fun. And let me know how much you enjoyed it.”

  • Striving for a better tomorrow
  • Vol 35
  • Issue 52
  • DhakaCourier

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