South Asia Dreams & Global Economic Governance

South Asia Dreams & Global Economic Governance

We are living in a time of unparalleled prosperity, fuelled in part by revolutions in knowledge, science, and technology, particularly information technology. This prosperity has changed the lives of many, yet billions of people still suffer from poverty, hunger, and disease. And now, several major crises have combined forces to bring even greater misery and frustration to the world’s bottom 3 billion people.

Few people foresaw these crises. The twenty-first century began with high hopes and idealistic dreams, encapsulated in the UN initiative known as the Millennium Development Goals. Many of us were hoping that the coming decades would bring unprecedented wealth and prosperity, not just for a few but for all people on this planet.

Sadly, however, 2008 will go down in history as the year of a rude awakening about the gross weaknesses in the capitalist system. It was the year of the food price increase, the energy crisis, the financial crisis, and the ever-worsening environmental crisis.

 In combination, these crises are causing a profound loss of faith among people who thought they had full understanding of and control over the global system.

Millennium Development Goals

In 2000, the world pledged in one voice to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. The most important of those goals was the goal to reduce poverty by half by 2015. All the countries and peoples of the world agreed to these goals, the most bold, the most noble of goals ever set for mankind.

Bangladesh is an example of a country that has made tremendous progress towards the MDGs. The poverty rate has fallen from an estimated 74 percent in 1973 to 57 percent in 1991, to 49 percent in 2000, and then to 40 percent in 2005. Though still too high, it continues to fall by around 2 percent a year, with each percentage point representing a meaningful improvement in the lives of millions of Bangladeshis. The country is on track to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of reducing poverty by half in 2015. Even more remarkably, Bangladeshis rapid economic growth has been accompanied by little increase in inequality.

The sharp drop in poverty is reflected in changes in economic growth, employment patterns, and the structure of the economy. Growth has averaged 5.5 percent since 2000, while per-capita growth has increased to 3.5 percent currently.

Population growth, a major problem in Bangladesh, one of the most densely populated countries on earth, has fallen sharply from an annual average of 3 percent in the 1970s to 1.5 percent in 2000.

The decline in population growth has been driven, in large part, by improvements in health care. During the 1990s, the percentage of Bangladeshi mothers receiving prenatal health care doubled. Partly as a result, infant mortality rates in Bangladesh fell almost by half between 1990 and 2005.

Educational opportunities for children have also improved. The 1990s witnessed a tripling in the number of children attending secondary school. More girls now attend secondary schools than boys, a feat unmatched in South Asia and a remarkable achievement given the fact that, in the Bangladesh of the early 1990s, there were three times as many boys as girls in secondary schools.

The problems of poverty in Bangladesh, though improved, are far from being solved. Bangladesh is still one of the poorest countries in the world, with tens of millions of people living at a level barely above subsistence. The social and economic trends are moving in the right direction. But growing gap between the rich and the poor is disturbing. Nevertheless, whatever Bangladesh can do, so can any other country. Bangladesh is a reason we should not abandon the MDGs. If we go village by village, city by city, district by district, country by country to achieve these goals,  it can be accomplished.

The crisis of capitalism that we experience today should not deflect us from the MDGs. We should rather look for a new global economic architecture to overcome the crisis as well as to facilitate attainment of MDGs.

The Grameen Experiment

I first got involved in the subject of poverty as an academician, and then personally, almost by accident. I got involved with poverty because it was all around me. The famine of 1974 pushed me out of the university campus. In disaster situations, most of us take up our social roles unhesitatingly. But in my case what began in a time of crisis became a life-long calling. I gave up my academic position and founded a bank—a bank for the poor.

Suddenly I felt the emptiness of economic theories in the face of crushing hunger and poverty. I realized that I had to leave the campus and somehow make myself useful to the distressed people of Jobra, the neighboring village.

In trying to discover what I could do to help, I learned many things about Jobra, about the poor people, and about their helplessness. I came face to face with the struggle of poor people to find the tiniest amounts of money needed to support their efforts to eke out a living. I was shocked to meet a woman who had borrowed just five taka from a money-lender and trader. The condition of the loan: She would have to sell all her products to him at a price he would decide. A five-taka loan transformed her into a virtual slave.

To understand the scope of this money-lending practice in the village, I made a list of the people who had borrowed from the money-lenders. When my list was complete, it had 42 names. These people had borrowed a total of Tk. 856 from the money-lenders. To free these 42 people from the clutches of the money lenders, I gave them the money to repay the loans. The excitement that was created in the village by this small action touched me deeply. I thought, “If this little action makes so many people so happy, why shouldn’t I do more of this?”

That’s what I have been trying to do ever since.

Grameen Bank for Institutional and Individual Self-reliance

The first thing I did was to try to persuade the bank located in the university campus to lend money to the poor. But the bank manager refused to do that. He said, “The poor do not qualify to take loans from the bank, they are not creditworthy.” I argued with him about this for several months, but I couldn’t change his mind. So I offered to become a guarantor for loans to the poor. The bank agreed to accept this proposal. By the middle of 1976, I started giving out loans to the village poor, taking personal responsibility for their repayment. I came up with some ideas for making it easier for the poor people to repay the money they had borrowed. These ideas worked. People paid back the loans on time, every time.

It seemed to me that lending money to the poor was not as difficult as it was imagined. But I kept confronting difficulties in trying to expand the program through the existing banks. Finally, I decided to create a separate bank for the poor. I succeeded in creating this bank in 1983. We called it Grameen Bank.

Today, Grameen Bank is a nationwide bank serving the poor in every single village of Bangladesh. It has 8 million borrowers, 97 per cent of whom are women. The bank is owned by the borrowers. Nine of the thirteen members of the board of directors are elected by the borrowers as shareholders. Grameen Bank lends out over $ 100 million a month in collateral-free loans averaging about $200. It encourages children of Grameen families to go to school. It offers education loans to them to pursue higher education. There are more than 42,000 students who are currently pursuing their education in medical schools, engineering schools, and universities financed by education loans from Grameen Bank. We encourage these young people to take a pledge for self-employment. We explain to them that their mothers own a big bank, Grameen Bank. It has plenty of money to finance any enterprise they wish to float— so why waste time looking for a job working for someone else?

Grameen Bank is financially self-reliant. All of its funds come from deposits. More than half of the deposits come from the borrowers themselves, who are required to save a little bit every week. They have a collective savings balance of over half a billion US dollars. The repayment rate on loans is very high, about 98 per cent, despite the fact that Grameen Bank focuses on the poorest people-those that other banks consider non-creditworthy.

This idea of small, collateral-free loans for poor women, known as “microcredit”, or “microfinance”, has spread around the world. There are now Grameen-type programs in almost every country in the world. We even run a program named “Grameen America” in New York City. It is now branching out to Omaha, Nebraska, and San Francisco, California. Even in the richest country in the world with the most sophisticated banking system, there is a need for a bank dedicated to serving the poor.

Poverty is not created by the Poor

When I meet Grameen Bank borrowers, I often meet mother-daughter and mother-son pairs in which the mother is totally illiterate, while the daughter or son is a medical doctor or an engineer. A thought always flashes through my mind: the mother could have been a doctor or an engineer too. She has the same capability as her daughter or son. The only reason she could not unleash her potential is that the society never gave her the chance. She could not even go to school to learn the alphabet.

The more time you spend among poor people, the more you become convinced that poverty is not created by poor people. It is created by the system we have built, the institutions we have designed, the concepts we have formulated. Poverty is an artificial, external imposition on a person. And since it is external, it can be removed.

Poverty is created by deficiencies in the institutions that we have built. For example, financial institutions. They refuse to provide financial services to nearly two-thirds of the world’s population. For generations, they claimed that it could not be done, and everybody accepted that explanation. This allowed loan sharks to thrive all over the world. Grameen Bank questioned this assumption and demonstrated that lending money to the poorest in a sustainable way is possible.

During the current financial crisis, the falsity of the old assumption became even more visible. While big conventional banks with all their collateral were collapsing, microcredit programs, which do not depend on collateral, continued to be as strong as ever. Will this demonstration make the mainstream financial institutions change their minds? Will they finally open their doors to the poor?

I am quite serious about this question. When a crisis is at its deepest, it can offer a huge opportunity. When things fall apart, that creates the opportunity to redesign, recast, and rebuild. We should not miss this opportunity to redesign our financial institutions. Let’s convert them into inclusive institutions. Nobody should be refused access to financial services. Because these services are so vital for the self-realization of people, I strongly feel that credit should be given the status of a human right.

Lessons from the World Food Crisis

Global media coverage of the current financial crisis gives the impression that, once we fix this crisis, all our troubles will be over. We forget that the financial crisis is only one of several crises that are threatening humankind. We are also suffering a global food crisis, an energy crisis, an environmental crisis, a health care crisis, and the continuing social and economic crisis of poverty. These crises are as important as the financial crisis, although they have not received as much attention.

Let us look at the world food crisis first. Early in 2008, the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) reported dreadful news just a few months before the collapse of the financial system: more than 73 million people in 78 countries were facing the reality of reduced food rations. We saw headlines reporting news of a sort many people assumed we would never experience again: skyrocketing prices for staple foodstuffs like grains and vegetables (wheat alone having risen in price by 200 percent since the year 2000); food shortages in many countries; rising rates of death from malnutrition; even food riots threatening the stability of countries around the globe.

Since the latest peak in global food prices (which occurred in June, 2008), prices have gone down, bringing a bit of short-term relief to millions. But continuing high food prices have created tremendous pressure in the lives of poor people, for whom basic food can consume as much as two-thirds of their income.

And while short-term relief efforts are essential to stave off the immediate effects of food shortages and prevent widespread famine, it’s also important to step back and take a look at the broader causes of the crisis. We need to consider how the evolution of the world economy and, in particular, of the system whereby food is produced and distributed has led us to today’s dilemma. Perhaps surprisingly, the economic, political, and business practices of the developed world have a profound impact on the availability of food in the poor nations of the world. Thus, solving the global food problem will require a redesign of international framework, not merely a series of local or even regional reforms.

The Green Revolution of the 1950s and 1960s increased crop yields in Asia and Latin America and made many countries that had been reliant on food imports self-sufficient. Rates of hunger and malnutrition dropped significantly. The high-yield grain production made possible by the Green Revolution has been credited with saving the lives of up to a billion people.

Now, however, a series of interrelated trends has partially reversed the gains that the Green Revolution produced.

Part of the problem has been the way in which globalization of food markets has been managed over the past three decades. I am a strong proponent of free trade; I believe that encouraging people and nations to exchange goods and services with one another will, in the long run, lead to greater prosperity for all. But like all markets, global markets need reasonable rules that will allow all participants an opportunity to benefit.

Today’s global markets, unfortunately, are only partly free, and some of the restrictions and distortions that have been left in place have had devastating consequences for poor nations.

The imbalances caused by this semi-free trade are distorting markets, raising prices, and even destroying agriculture in poor countries that once boasted enormous food surpluses.

Fuel Versus Food, a Market Dilemma

Subsidies for ethanol in countries like the U.S. are one example of this problem. Intended to encourage the growth of corn and soy to partially replace fossil fuels in gasoline, these subsidies may have made sense when oil cost $20 a barrel. They were designed to make it economically viable to use biofuels as a partial substitute for relatively cheap and abundant oil – and they worked as intended, as shown by the fact that, in 2007, fully one quarter of the maize (corn) crop in the U.S. was used to manufacture ethanol. But these same subsidies cannot be justified when oil is at over $50 a barrel – nor can the continuing subsidies for oil production enjoyed by large, highly profitable firms like ExxonMobil. Both sets of subsidies distort markets, lead to unintended ecological, social, and economic consequences, and should be phased out as quickly as possible. Otherwise, they will continue to drive up the price of basic foodstuffs both directly and indirectly, including by diverting farmland and other agricultural resources to the production of fuel rather than food.

Food or feed, and increased demand for meat has also distorted food price structures and contributed to worldwide food shortages. Growing prosperity in some of the world’s poorest nations is, of course, a wonderful thing. Over the past three decades, millions of people have been able to lift themselves out of poverty. The credit goes to increased access to free markets, technological developments, and programs such as microcredit that make capital for investments available to those who were once shut out of the capitalist system.

But prosperity is bringing its own challenges. The amount of meat eaten by the typical Chinese citizen has increased from 20 kilograms per year in 1958 to over 50 kilograms today. Similar increases have been seen in other large countries such as India, Indonesia, and Bangladesh, which together with China make up nearly half the world’s population. Not only can more and more people in these countries now afford meat, but they are shifting to meat (and away from more traditional, low-meat diets) as part of their adoption of a “modern, prosperous” lifestyle.

Unfortunately, meat-eating is a relatively inefficient use of natural resources. The number of nutritious calories delivered by meat is far lower than the calories humans can enjoy through direct intake of grains. Yet today, more and more grain and other foodstuffs are being used to feed cattle rather than human beings. By some measures, up to a third of the world’s grain production, as well as third of the global fish catch, is being used to feed livestock. And more and more of the planet’s farmlands are being diverted from the production of food for human consumption and toward the growing of grains for cattle feed. These changes add several costly steps to the process by which human life will ultimately be sustained.

As a result of dysfunctional agricultural choices such as the decision to shift land use toward ethanol and meat production, even basic foods are becoming more expensive.

There are still other factors worsening the current food crisis for the developing nations. One of these is the growing difficulty for farmers in poor nations to compete in the increasingly global food markets.

In effect, small farmers in the developing nations are suffering from the necessity to compete against large-scale producers in the developed nations. It’s a one-sided battle that, so far, has led to devastating results for the poor farmers of the world.

Increasing corporate control of agricultural resources is also harming farmers in the developing world. As large agribusinesses take near-monopoly control over seed stocks as well as control over supplies of costly synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, more and more small farms are driven out of business, unable to afford the supplies they need to compete in the new global food market. The rising cost of oil is a significant factor here, too. For example, many fertilizers are petroleum-based, which means that every increase in the cost of a barrel of oil drives up the cost of fertilizer. The World Bank reports that, over the past five years, fertilizer prices have risen by 150 percent. Of course, high oil prices also drive up the cost of irrigation, running farm equipment, delivering goods to market, and shipping foods to and from processing plants.

All of these economic and social problems are growing worse just as global environmental trends are threatening the future of agriculture around the world. Climate change, drought, and deforestation are turning vast areas that were once fertile farmlands into deserts. The UN reports that, every year, an area equivalent to the entire country of Ukraine is lost to farming because of climate change. What’s more, if current global warming trends continue, over the next century, rising sea levels can be expected to flood almost one third of the world’s farmland. It is easy to imagine what is happening to Bangladesh, the world’s most densely populated country, which is a flat country with 20% of its land less than one-meter above sea level. As the sea-level keeps rising, flooding grows steadily worse and more destructive. It is an emerging case of environmental disaster leading immediately to human disaster.

The Megaton of Financial Crisis

On top of the food crisis, the oil energy crisis, and the environmental crisis, came the biggest crisis of all -the crushing collapse of the US financial system. Giant financial institutions along with major manufacturing firms like the auto-makers are going bankrupt or being kept alive with unprecedented government bailout packages. Many reasons have been suggested for this historic economic collapse: excessive greed in the market place, the transformation of investment markets into gambling casinos, the failure of regulatory institutions, and so on. But one thing is clear; the financial system has broken down because of a fundamental distortion of its basic purpose.

Credit markets were originally created to serve human needs-to provide business people with capital to start or expand companies. In return for these services, bankers and other lenders earned a reasonable profit. Everyone benefited. In recent years, however, the credit markets have been distorted by a relative handful of individuals and companies with a different goal in mind – to earn unrealistically high rates of return through clever feats of financial engineering. They repackaged mortgages and other loans into sophisticated instruments whose risk level and other characteristics were hidden or disguised. Then they sold and resold these instruments, earning a slice of profit on every transaction. All the while, investors eagerly bid up the prices, scrambling for unsustainable growth and gambling that the underlying weakness of the system would never come to light.

In time, the inevitable happened. The house of cards came tumbling down. And because of globalization, this financial tsunami is spreading all over the world. Stock-markets all over the world are reporting daily about losses in the trillions of dollars. But the rich will not be the worst sufferers from this financial crisis, rather it will be the bottom 3 billion people on this planet, despite the fact that they are not responsible in any way for creating this crisis. While the rich will continue to enjoy a privileged life style, the bottom 3 billion people will face job and income losses that, for many, will make the difference between life and death.

We have only seen the beginning of these crises in 2008; it is going to be a long and painful period ahead. The combined effects of the financial crisis, continue to unfold in the months and years that followed, hitting the bottom 3 billion people of the world most hard.

World leaders have been particularly focused on the emergency situation on the financial front. This is quite understandable. But it should not be seen as a problem of high finance only. This narrow view of the financial crisis is likely to create global social and political problems. The human aspect of the financial crisis must be integrated into all policy proposals. The appropriate thing would be to treat all four crises as one crisis, since all are linked together. So far, governments have kept themselves busy coming up with super-size bail-out packages for the financial institutions which were responsible for creating the financial crisis, yet no bail-out package of any size has even been discussed for the victims of the crisis – the 3 billion bottom people and the planet that sustains us all.

For this reason, I have been repeatedly urging that this mega-crisis be taken as a mega-opportunity to redesign the existing economic and financial systems.

A Blinding Conceptual Flaw

The biggest flaw in our existing theory of capitalism lies in its misrepresentation of human nature. In the present interpretation of capitalism, human beings engaged in business are portrayed as one-dimensional beings whose only mission is to maximize profit. This is a much distorted picture of a human being. Human beings are not money-making robots. The essential fact about human beings is that they are multi-dimensional beings. Their happiness comes from many sources, not just from making money.

Yet economic theory has built the whole theory of business on the assumption that human beings do nothing in their economic lives other than pursue their selfish interests. The theory concludes that the optimal result for society will occur when each individual’s search for selfish benefit is given free rein. This interpretation of human beings denies any role to other aspects of life—political, social, emotional, spiritual, environmental, etc.

No doubt human beings are selfish beings, but they are selfless beings too. Yet this selfless dimension of human beings has no role in economics. This distorted view of human nature is the fatal flaw that makes our economic thinking incomplete and inaccurate. Over time, it has helped to create the multiple crises we face today.

Once we recognize this flaw in our theoretical structure, the solution is obvious. We can easily replace the one-dimensional person in economic theory with a multi-dimensional person—a person who has both selfish and selfless interests at the same time.

Immediately our picture of the business world changes. We now see the need for two kinds of businesses, one for personal gain (profit maximization), another dedicated to helping others. In one kind of business, the objective is to maximize economic gains for the owners, even if this leaves nothing for others, while in the other kind of business, everything is for the benefit of others and nothing is for the owners—except the pleasure of serving humanity.

Let us call this second kind of business, built on the selfless part of human nature, as “social business”. This is what our economic theory has been lacking.

Social Business — A Non-Loss, Non-Dividend Company

A social business is a business where an investor aims to help others without taking any financial gain himself. At the same time, the social business generates enough income to cover its own costs. Any surplus is invested in expansion of the business or for increased benefits to society. The social business is a non-loss, non-dividend company dedicated entirely to achieving a social goal.

Will anybody in the real world be interested in creating businesses with selfless objectives? Where would the money for social business come from?

Judging by the real human beings I know, many people will be delighted to create businesses for selfless purposes. Some have already been created. I’ll give briefs on some of them a little later.

Regarding the source of fund, one source can easily be the philanthropy money going for creating social businesses. This makes enormous sense. One problem of charity programs is that they remain perpetually dependent on donations. They cannot stand on their own two feet. Charity money goes out to do good things, but that money never comes back. It is a one-way route. But if a charity program can be converted into a social business that supports itself, it becomes a powerful undertaking. Now the money invested is recycled endlessly. A charity taka has one life, but a social business taka has endless life. That’s the power of social business.

Besides philanthropists, many other people will invest in social businesses just to share the joy of making a difference in other people’s lives. People will give not only money but also their creativity, networking skills, technological prowess, life experience, and other resources to create social businesses that can change the world.

Once our economic theory adjusts to the multidimensional reality of human nature, students will learn in their schools and colleges that there are two kinds of businesses — traditional money-making businesses and social businesses. As they grow up, they’ll think about what kind of company they will invest in and what kind of company they will work for. And many young people who dream of a better world will think about what kind of social business they would like to create. Young people, when they are still in schools, may start designing social businesses, and even launch social businesses individually or collectively to express their creative talents in changing the world.

Lessons from Social Businesses

Like any good idea, the concept of social business needs practical demonstration. So I have started creating social businesses in Bangladesh.

Some of them are created in partnership with large multi-national companies. The first such joint-venture with a multi-national company was created in 2005, in partnership with the French dairy company Danone. The Grameen-Danone social business is aimed at reducing malnutrition among the children of Bangladesh. The Grameen-Danone company produces a delicious yogurt for children and sells it at a price affordable to the poor. This yogurt is fortified with all the micro-nutrients which are missing in the children’s ordinary diet—vitamins, iron, zinc, iodine, etc. If a child eats two cups of yogurt a week over a period of eight to nine months, the child gets all the micro-nutrients he or she needs and becomes a healthy, playful child.

As a social business, Grameen-Danone follows the basic principle that it must be self-sustaining, and the owners must remain committed never to take any dividend beyond the return of the original amount they invested. The success of the company will be judged each year not by the amount of profit generated, but by the number of children getting out of malnutrition in that particular year.

Many other big companies are now approaching us to create social businesses jointly with us. They want to create joint ventures with Grameen because they want to make sure that it is done the right way. Once they become experienced in social business, they will take the concept wherever the need exists.

We have a joint-venture social business with Veolia, a large French water company. The Grameen-Veolia Water Company was created to bring safe drinking water in the villages of Bangladesh where arsenic contamination of water is a huge problem.” Villagers are buying watery from the company at an affordable price instead of drinking contaminated water.

BASF of Germany has signed a joint-venture agreement to produce chemically treated mosquito-nets in Bangladesh as a social business. “The BASF-Grameen joint-venture company will produce and sell chemically faceted mosquito-nets as cheaply as possible to make it affordable to the poorest.” The company will have to be self-sustaining, but there is no intention of taking any profit out of the company beyond the amount invested.

Our joint-venture social business with Intel Corporation, “Grameen-Intel, aims at using information and communication technology to help solve the problems of the rural poor— for example by providing health care advise & individual prescription on mobile phone in the villages.”

Our joint-venture with Adidas aims at producing shoes for the lowest income people at an affordable price. The goal of the “Grameen-Adidas company is to make sure that no one, child or adult, goes without shoes.” This is a health intervention to make sure that people in the rural areas, particularly children, do not have to suffer from parasitic diseases that can be transmitted through walking barefoot.

“Grameen-Otto is planning to set up a garment factory as a social business in collaboration with Otto, a large chain store and mail-order company of Germany.” Profit of the company will be used for the improvement of the quality of lives of the employees, their children, and the poor of the neighborhood.

As these examples show, social business is not just a pleasant idea. It is a reality, one that is already beginning to make positive changes in people’s lives.

We May Create Social Stock Markets

Once the concept of social business becomes widely known, creative people will come forward with attractive designs for social businesses. Young people will develop business plans to address the most difficult social problems through social businesses. The good ideas will need to be funded. I am happy to say there are already initiatives in Europe and Japan to create Social Business Funds to provide equity and loan support to social businesses.

In time, more sources of funding will be needed. Each level of government — international, national, state, and city—can create Social Business Funds to encourage citizens and companies to create social businesses designed to address specific social problems (unemployment, health, sanitation, pollution, old age, drug, crime, disadvantaged groups the disabled, etc). Bilateral and multi-lateral donors can create Social Business Funds. Foundations can earmark a percentage of their funds to support social businesses. Businesses can use their social responsibility budgets to fund social businesses.

We’ll soon need to create a separate stock market for social businesses to make it easy for small investors to invest in social businesses. Only social businesses will be listed in this Social Stock Market. Investors will know right from the beginning that they’ll never receive any dividends when they invest in social stock market. Their motivation will be to enjoy the pride and pleasure of helping to solve difficult social problems.

Social business gives everybody the opportunity to participate in creating the kind of world that we all want to see. Thanks to the concept of social business, citizens don’t have to leave all problems in the hands of the government and then spend their lives criticizing the government for failing to solve them. Now citizens have a completely new space in which to mobilize their creativity and talent for solving the problem of our time. Seeing the effectiveness of social business governments may decide to create their own social businesses or partner with citizen-run social businesses, and/or incorporate the lessons from the social businesses to improve the effectiveness of their own programs.

Governments will have an important role to play in the promotion of social business. They will need to pass legislation to give legal recognition to social business and create regulatory bodies to ensure that transparency, integrity, and honesty are ensured in the social business sector. They can also provide tax incentives for investing in social businesses as well as for social businesses themselves.

The Power of Dreams

The wonderful promise of social business makes it all the more important that we re-define and broaden our present economic framework. We need a new way of thinking about economics that is not prone to creating series of crises; instead, it should be capable of ending the crises once for all. Now is the time for bold and creative thinking-and we need to move fast, because the world is changing fast. The first piece of this new framework must be to accommodate social business as an integral part of the economic structure.

And once a sustainable strategy is put in place for that, the aspirations of the people become a driving force. Experts are trained to make forecasts on the basis of the past and present, but events in the real world are driven by the dreams of people.

We’ll have to believe in our wish-list if we hope to make it come true.

Fortunately for us, we have entered into an age when dreams have the best chance to come true. We must organize the present to allow an easy entry to the future of our dreams. We must not let our past stand in the way.

Let’s dream that by 2030 we’ll make Bangladesh in particular and South Asia as a whole an exemplary poverty-free country and region of the world. Let’s prepare to challenge the world to find a poor person anywhere in South Asia.

Let’s dream that by 2030 Bangladesh and other countries of Asia will set up reliable state-of-the-art healthcare systems that will provide affordable care for all people.

Let’s dream that by 2030 we’ll create a robust financial system to provide easy access to financial services to every single person in Bangladesh and other countries of South Asia.

Let’s dream that by 2030 the first career choice for every child growing up in Bangladesh and other countries of South Asia will not be to work for some company but to launch his or her own enterprise.

And let’s dream that by 2030 we’ll have a range of creative and effective social businesses working throughout South Asia to solve all the remaining social problems. ■

Muhammad Yunus
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