In 2010 Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank, gave a talk at the RSA entitled ‘Building Social Business’. It’s an inspiring talk, and among his many insightful comments he describes the social business as simply an alternative – rather than an opponent – to the organisations whose policies or services (in this case, lending money) are the source of the problem.
It’s an important mindset. A customer-focused mindset that any business needs – social or otherwise. A mindset that says instead of competing with or challenging organisations, a social business is there to offer another option for people to try – “if people are interested they will use it, if they don’t think it’s interesting it will disappear”. The role of the social business – or anyone serious about positive change – is not to challenge other organisations. It is to stand alongside them and let the customer decide.
Why is this important? It’s important because it helps focus on the solution, not the problem. For anyone who feels strongly about specific issues and the need for change, it’s easy to demonise organisations that we believe could or “should” be helping more. This doesn’t always help if change is genuinely your goal. It’s not conducive to creating new solutions or taking action. It doesn’t focus on the needs of the ‘customers’ who need our ideas. And it closes the door to those organisations who could do more to help if only they could learn from us.
So my biggest lesson from Muhammad Yunus’ talk is not to waste time pointing the finger, and to stay focused on actually doing something to solve the problems that matter to me. After all, and in his words, “each human being has the capacity to change the world. The question is ‘am I going to use it?'”.
Muhammad Yunus is a Bangladeshi economist and founder of the Grameen Bank, an institution that provides microcredit (small loans to poor people possessing no collateral) to help its clients establish creditworthiness and financial self-sufficiency. In 2006 Yunus and Grameen received the Nobel Prize for Peace.