Use creativity, power of youth

Bangladesh must find ways to allow its young generation to come forward and take up the responsibility of solving various problems the country is facing, Nobel Peace Laureate Muhammad Yunus said yesterday.

“They are the source of creativity and we are not using them,” he said while addressing a discussion.

The microcredit pioneer made the comments at a panel discussion on “Social Business and Environment” at the German Trade Show 2011 in Bangabandhu International Conference Centre in the capital.

The founder of Grameen Bank said the young generation should take a pledge. “The pledge is ‘I am not a job seeker, I am a job giver’,” he said.

Today’s young people are much more connected and wiser because of the technology they have in their hands, he added.

He called the young generation a “power house” and said, “The question is how they are going to use that power. Unless they are going to use that power that will be wasted. This is a challenge for us in Bangladesh, where half of the population is probably 21 years.”

“This is one area social business can help and there is tremendous enthusiasm among young people to understand the social business and designing social business. This will help us solve all the problems we have — financial, food, energy, environmental and social crises.”

He said the country is surrounded by crises. “But human ingenuity and creativity is so enormous and limitless. If you allow the new generation to come out then their creativity will be connected and the problems will not sustain. Human creativity can address all problems.”

He said it is a challenge for the country to figure out how to bring the young people forward and have them take up responsibilities without the old generation becoming an impediment in their way.

Like in many other countries, Bangladesh’s education system does not let the young people utilise their creativity, Prof Yunus said.

During the panel discussion, Maren Boehm, manager corporate responsibility, Buying Markets, Otto Group, said Bangladesh has a chance to be a leader in social business, instead of remaining in global focus for wrong reasons. “As a result, it can attract global attention and will have brighter future.”

Saria Sadique, chairman of BASF Bangladesh Ltd, said the German chemical company forged a partnership with Grameen to protect Bangladesh’s poor from death from malaria.

BASF is now test-running a chemically treated mosquito net, which will be launched commercially in December this year.

“The venture will also create a number of employments for rural women and the young,” said Sadique.

Prof Rehman Sobhan, chairman of the Centre for Policy Dialogue who moderated the discussion, said the promoters of social business have to take into account the issue of high salaries and perks for the chief executives. “If the CEOs are paid 20 million US dollars then how do you solve the problem?”

In response, Yunus said the market will determine the issue of multi-million dollar salaries of CEOs and others. “This is market oriented. We are not separating ourselves from market. The CEOs are to be paid according to the market situation. If you are both owner and CEO then you are a suspect. But if you are hiring somebody for the company then it is OK.”

When Sadique narrated how they failed to convince Bangladeshi government officials to slash high import duties on mosquito nets so the poor may buy those at lower prices, the microcredit pioneer said the authorities took the right decision.

“Do not give any special benefit like tax cut for setting up social business. You should not ask for a special privilege because you are a social business. The moment you get a privilege, you are finished. All the fake people will get in. All the hard conditions should be applied to you. Nothing should be compromised,” he said.

The economist also ruled out the notion that one has to partner with major global companies — as Grameen has done with Danone, BASF, and Adidas — to set up social businesses. “You do not need to link with big companies to set up social business,” he said.

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