Muhammad Yunus's session at Tata Steel Kolkata Literary Meet 2018

"I wanted to change the entire banking system, which was flawed. I wanted to help poor people, that was the main idea" exclaimed the Nobel Peace Prize awardee and Microcredit pioneer Muhammad Yunus during a session on his new book "A World of Three Zeros" at Kolkata Literary Meet against the backdrop of the marvelous Victoria Memorial.

Literature festivals are a concoction of various sessions that comprise book launch events, interactive discussions and spicy debates. Since 2012, Kolkata Literary Meet is being organised every year in January on the grounds of Victoria Memorial and some sessions are held in Calcutta Club too.

Mr. Subroto Bagchi and Dr. Muhammad Yunus - tata steel kolkata literary meet 2018
Mr. Subroto Bagchi (left), Dr. Muhammad Yunus

Yunus talks about his mother on being asked by the session moderator - Mr. Subroto Bagchi. He highlights that despite the fact that his mother discontinued education after fourth standard, she knew about Gandhi, Jinnah and recited poetry to her children. Among nine siblings her mother had particular fondness for her third child, him, and he reckons, her blessings gave him the impetus to overcome every hurdle so far.

During his early days he spotted many villagers losing all their assets to loan sharks on failing to repay the debt. These atrocious acts anguished him and he decided to help them by lending money. He didn't charge any interest, and also expressed no haste in fetching the repayment. This continued for some time until he found the Grameen Bank or 'rural bank' in 1983 to finance the poorest of the poors in Bangladesh. The New Indian Express report says, "Grameen now has 2,564 branches, with 19,800 staff serving 8.29 million borrowers in 81,367 villages of Bangladesh". He lamented that the current financial and banking system is fundamentally wrong as they should be sanctioning loans to the poors first.

Well, I too think the same, continuing this flawed financial system will solve nothing but will only strengthen the economic inequality. Yunus says, "I always did just the opposite of what banks do. What banks did was for the rich. I reversed the system to make it work for the poor. The best thing that happened to me is that I never studied banking. I did things as it came and had no guarantees for the credit we gave. Luckily it worked". In 2006, he and his Grameen Bank was bestowed the Nobel Peace Prize jointly for their altruistic efforts for socio-economic development.

According to me, the existing education system needs a dire reform, education must coach one to be able, to cater for the society by making both the individual and others prosperous. The existing drawbacks of the education system had always irked me and the session with Yunus made me understand the problems better. I believe other sensible people are also aware of the drawbacks which include the vagueness when it comes to the purpose of learning, lapses in bridging the gap between new knowledge and existing knowledge, the practical application of knowledge and so on. Anyway, I can write reams on education in India and worldwide but let's keep it for another post. He raised a concern by stating that economic theory teaches one to do business for their own benefits, it teaches selfishness and self-centricity. He suggests to fuse this selfishness with selflessness so that our world progresses collectively.

Human being is a combination of selfishness and selflessness. When human beings use the selflessness and create social businesses is when the world would be a better place. - Muhammad Yunus

"Social business is not only about economy, it is about the society", said Yunus, the eminent and noble social entrepreneur. The horrible sanitary conditions of Bangladesh put him into distress. He came up with a smart condition for Grameen’s borrowers. They were instructed to build and use a pit latrine. In short, they were barred from defecating in the open and on disobeying the order the borrowers had to forego their privileges as the Grameen bank beneficiaries as penalty. Such a simple solution worked and now Bangladesh has a higher percentage of population with access to sanitation than India. Moreover, he introduced solar panels and solar cookers in rural areas which the villagers could buy using loans. Grameen encourages woman empowerment and gives high priority to women by trying to break the stereotype of a man-dominated society. 97% of Grameen's borrowers are women. Grameen sells mobile phones to village women for the use of other villagers who don't possess a phone who can call from these phones in return of small payments. This way the women are making money and becoming independent.

During his frequent visits to villages he found children who would lose their visions in darkness. On inquiring a doctor he came to know that they had night-blindness, a vision impairment caused due to Vitamin A deficiency. The doctors advised the villagers to either take Vitamin A supplements or consume leafy vegetables. Yunus told the villagers to eat vegetables but soon he found that very few heeded. He realized that they couldn't afford the seed and, therefore, his team started selling one taka packets of seeds. His mission eventually became a success and night blindness was eliminated from Bangladesh.

Poor people are bonsai people. There is nothing wrong with the seed. But simply, society didn't give them space to grow as tall as everybody else. - Muhammad Yunus

Yunus said, "When we consider the wealth distribution in the world, people often talk about an imagery of the pyramid and say how the poor are at the bottom of the pyramid. But I do not see any pyramid. The best explanation of it would be a mushroom. The upper part of the mushroom keeps growing all the time, all the wealth of the world is reflected in the mushroom. That mushroom is owned by a dozen people and now the number is coming down to less than a dozen", he concludes, "So, the number of owners is decreasing but the shape of the mushroom is increasing, and that is the dangerous part of wealth concentration. The stem part of the mushroom is becoming thinner and thinner. That is the 99.9 percent of the population". He warns us that people will never be able to tolerate such a system that sucks everything from the bottom and pushes it to the top, and the system will certainly explode if this continues. Hence, he tries to reverse the system with an aim to minimize economic inequality and to establish a poverty-free world. In other words, the economic power should not be concentrated within a few hands, it should rather be distributed among all. 

Muhammad Yunus - tata steel kolkata literary meet 2018 - subroto bagchi
Subroto Bagchi holding Yunus's new book

Each zero in his new book - "A World of Three Zeroes" - has a significant meaning: zero poverty, zero unemployment and zero net carbon emissions. His social businesses not only help the poor people but the entire society and the environment. To my mind, the three major issues which he intends to bring down to a zero are every nation's common problems. I believe that if the number of people like him even goes up slightly then the current decaying world will transform into a glorious and prosperous one.

As I had never heard of Yunus and his Grameen Bank earlier, I am grateful to Malavika Banerjee - the literary festival's director - for hosting the session and bringing Yunus to share his noble ideas.

Muhammad Yunus's autograph - tata steel kolkata literary meet 2018
My cousin rushed to get this. Credit goes to him!

Making money is a happiness. And that's a great incentive. Making other people happy is a super-happiness. - Muhammad Yunus



  1. The mashroom theory is just awesome nd a big salute to his mother also for making a legend nd seriously our education system needs a renessa to change the whole

  2. Inspiring article. An individual alone with a burning desire to real change CAN bring CHANGE. Salute to him.
    "Three zeroes" book I would like to read.
    Thanks alot for such a beautiful article.

    1. But, the sad part is our India has none like him. We have some benign rich people who do charity but no one to bring drastic change by doing social business.

  3. Such an insightful blog. You really have written well.

  4. I too didn't know him. Therefore, thanks for this article. Khub bhalo likhechis :)

  5. ­čśśmushroom story

  6. Very well written! I hadn't heard about the Grameen Bank before this article; it was informative and has piqued my interest in getting to know more about Dr. Yunus and his tremendous efforts. Thank you! :)

  7. But, the sad part is our India has none like him. We have some benign rich people who do charity but no one to bring drastic change by doing social business.

  8. Point noted. Will take care of it from the next time. :)

  9. Well written again. But I do have the similar disappointment like the other one. Your write-ups need your own social and political commentary too.


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