Nobel Peace Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus launched the California Institute for Social Business at California State University, Channel Islands, on Feb. 26. The first of its kind, the endeavor will “make it clear to people what a social business is,” Yunus said.
A university is not “not just a think tank — it’s also an action tank,” Yunus said at a press event prior to delivering his speech to a full house of 1,800 at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza.
The institute, which has been in the works for several years, aims to revolutionize the business curriculum at CSUCI and serve as a catalyst for similar institutes at other schools. It seeks to introduce students to the challenges of poverty and environmental problems and teach them to create market-based solutions. It will include student-run social businesses funded on a model similar to Yunus’ Grameen Bank.
“Social business is a business where a company makes money but the investors don’t take the money because the company exists to solve a problem,” Yunus said at the Civic Arts Plaza. A social business, however, is not a charity, he explained, “because a charity is not sustainable.”
“If you can create a business to do the same job [as a charity], the money can regenerate, it can be recycled,” he said.
Yunus and his organization, the Grameen Bank, were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for providing access to credit to thousands of the world’s poorest — people who usually don’t have collateral to secure conventional bank financing. The idea behind microfinance is that entrepreneurs in developing countries often need only a small loan, sometimes less than $100, to kick-start a business and become self-sustainable.
“I thought that if you could make so many people happy with so little money, why not make more people happy with more money,” Yunus said.
The event was moderated by former NBC and CNN correspondent Michael Okwu. “Imagine being able to say of someone, ‘He’s changing the world,’ without even a hint of hyperbole,” Okwu said in introducing Yunus.
The event also awarded the first Yunus Social Innovation Medal to Steve Hilton of the Hilton Foundation, which has given $800 million in humanitarian aid throughout the world.
[To read the Business Times’ previous story on the California Institute for Social Business, click here.]