Just over a year ago, in Lima, Peru, Hernando de Soto posed a question to me that he had been pondering. What did I think was the reason that Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor, set himself on fire on December 17, 2010? Being a mother and a grandmother, I had a visceral reaction to the question. I knew that for a man to have his means of supporting his mother and siblings repeatedly removed from his possession by the authorities was a fate worse than death.
This morning, I had the honor to meet privately with another one of my icons, Muhammad Yunus. I asked him about a turning point in his work in the early years. In response he noted that when he first lent money to a few women to establish their first microbusinesses, he never expected them to pay him back. People told him the women never would. But in fact the women did pay back the loans in small increments every week. What made this so important, I asked Yunus. "Because now I could build a system out of it…a model…microfinance," responded Yunus.
In two different ways, de Soto and Yunus have devoted their lives to helping the poorest people in the world to make a livelihood for themselves and their families. To build equity—just like the rich do. De Soto by formalizing property rights for people living in the extralegal community so that they can access capital to build their microenterprises, and Yunus through microlending to support the development of businesses by the extreme poor.
Wherever you turn at CGI, you’ll find women and men from companies, foundations, and nonprofits collaborating to help people create the means to support themselves and their families, including becoming educated for greater opportunities. As more people gain access to a better life, perhaps the world has a better chance for peace.
What will you tell your grandchildren?, I asked Muhammad Yunus this morning. "That they can create their own world. They don’t have to accept the world as they inherit it," he told me. Yunus added, "Every human being has an unlimited capability to solve problems. Never give up. Even if you fail, never give up."
[Image: Flickr user thebarrowboy]