In my last post I told you about the times that I want to take a hammer to my computer. But there are plenty of times that I just want to wrap my arms around it and hug it as hard as I can. Those are the times when I read something that truly inspires me. This is one of those times.
Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus, the founder of Grameen Bank in Bangladesh is a visionary. He sees beyond the typical, the average and the mundane. He sees possibilities where others don’t. He is able to articulate simple but impactful ideas and is able to inspire others to take action.
Yunus had what he described as a “casual lunch” with Franck Riboud, the chairman and chief executive officer of the Groupe Danone, the French dairy giant.
What grew from that discussion was a simple yet radical idea, bringing low-cost highly nutritious yogurt to hundreds of thousands of malnourished children in Bangladesh.
According to Yunus “It took just a few minutes to convince [Riboud] that an investment in a social business is a worthwhile thing for Danone shareholders, even though it will not give any personal dividend to them,” Yunus says. “He agreed to the proposition immediately. It took somewhat more time to fix up the modalities, the product, the financing, tax and regulatory issues, new yardsticks for evaluating business and many other such details.”
According to an article in the Jakarta Post, “production started in February 2007 at the first factory at Bogra, 50 kilometers north of Dhaka. In line with Yunus’s vision, it was constructed in an environmentally friendly manner, harvesting rainwater to reduce the pressure on groundwater. Solar energy runs various machines.”
“It was Grameen’s first such partnership, set up with initial capital of $1 million. Danone was a lure for other companies to come forward to work with the Grameen family. So far, those that have followed include the French company Veolia Water to form Grameen Veolia Water, BASF of Germany to form BASF Grameen, Intel to form Grameen Intel and Adidas Group to form Grameen Adidas.
Yunus’s vision requires companies like Danone and the others to set up what amount to parallel companies that are aimed at achieving one or more social goals. The companies must cover all costs and make a profit while at the same time achieving social objectives such as improving health care, housing and financial services for the poor, nutrition for malnourished children, the provision of safe drinking water and the development of renewable energy.
While the parallel companies, like Grameen Danone, are allowed to make a profit, the investors can only recoup their original investment. The profit stays with the parallel company for expansion and improvement to work for financial and economic sustainability in an environmentally friendly ambiance. The work force gets market wages with better working conditions.”
Grameen’s partnerships with private industry are a wonderful example of not-for-profits and for-profit corporations working together to achieve socially beneficial change by coupling the power of corporations and the vision of Non Governmental Organizations (NGO) and not-for-profits to use product development in a way that benefits everyone throughout the supply chain..
Bringing not-for-profits and corporations together to produce change and social benefit is a model that can be duplicated easily. All it takes is a little creativity, some vision and thinking about product and market development in a new way. These methodologies are within easy reach of most small to medium businesses (SME’s) too.
There are plenty of ways to produce profit that benefits your local community as well. You just have to look for them and be creative.
By Maurice Bretzfield, Certified Business Mentor, SCORE NYC
Maurice Bretzfield is a SCORE NYC Certified Business Mentor with over twenty years of Digital Marketing experience.