The University System of Georgia held this past October 17th, 2011 on the Georgia Tech Campus, the Georgia Social Business and Microcredit Forum. The forum is part of the University System’s statewide economic development partnership efforts with other Georgia entities. The conference was organized to bring together economic development interests from all regions of the state and to hear the keynote speaker and 2006 Nobel Peace Prize Winner Professor Muhammad Yunus’ social business concept of combining business know-how with the desire to improve quality of life. In addition college student teams from across Georgia, including Georgia Southern University, were challenged to develop business solutions to pressing local and state issues. Their applications of these ideas were judged and winners announced at the end of the day-long conference.
Professor Yunus, Landon Latham and Donna Fisher
Prof. Muhammad Yunus is the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize Winner and is known worldwide as the “Father of Microcredit” and “Banker to the Poor”. He is also the recipient of hundreds of national and international awards including the US Presidential Medal of Freedom and the US Congressional Gold Medal. Muhammad Yunus’s vision is the total eradication of poverty from the world. Professor Yunus was chosen by the Wharton School of Business for PBS documentary, as one of The 25 Most Influential Business Persons of the Past 25 Years. In 2006, Time magazine listed him under “60 years of Asian Heroes” as one of the top 12 business leaders. One Georgia Southern student, Landon Lathan, a Freeman Scholar (given to those with a strong academic record, relevant extracurricular activities and potential for success in the College of Business Administration), had the opportunity to meet Prof. Yunus together with Georgia Southern professor Dr. Donna Fisher.
During his speech, Prof. Yunus talked about the “American Dream”; no matter where you come from you can achieve success. He explained about the Grameen Bank, that he founded in 1983 in Bangladesh. He argued that his approach was different from what banks normally do; instead of targeting the rich, he targeted the poor; instead of focusing on the city, he went to the rural areas; instead of targeting men, he focused on women. A lot of Bangladesh’s improvements can be traced back to the Grameen Bank and its programs and partners who have done so much to empower poor people, especially women.
Prof. Yunus argued that poverty doesn’t belong to us and that the system is broken, he argued that large corporations need to look beyond profit and instead should integrate social business into their approach. He cited a recent project that the French company Danon is undertaking with Grameen to provide a special yogurt at a much lower price to help childern in Bangladesh who are malnourished. Prof. Yunus finished his speech saying that the next generation can change the world and are the power of today.
After lunch, students from Georgia universities represented at the event engaged in a Social Business Plan Competition. They had to address a social problem or issue in their communities and were free to develop social business plans on any social problem. They were given a 5 minute time slot, had to produce a two-page business plan and a poster, and were judged by experienced social entrepreneurs and business executives. Georgia Southern was represented by the SIFE team president Matthew Chambers and by Perry Portis. They introduced to the judges the Evergreen Outdoors project, which is a website selling only environmentally friendly products from different companies, such as, Patagonia and REI. The profit from the products sold, will go to the Hearts and Hands Clinic located in Statesboro, so they can continue to assist the people of Bulloch County who can’t afford health insurance.