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Friday, July 27, 2012

Nobel laureate Yunus wants tech prowess applied to social businesses

Staff writer

Japan can help solve global and national social problems if it harnesses its advanced technology for social businesses, visiting Nobel Peace Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus said Thursday.

News photo
Social networking: Muhammad Yunus, winner of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, addresses the media Thursday in Tokyo. AFP-JIJI

"Japan is a frontier of technology," the founding managing director of Grameen Bank, specializing in microfinancing to help people become financially sustainable, told a news conference in Tokyo.

"If we can use this technology to address the social problems, we can solve 100 percent of the problems," Yunus said, citing technology by Japanese companies being used to alleviate water contamination problems around the world, including in his home nation of Bangladesh.

Yunus said social businesses, which he defines as firms that address a social objective, can use viable financing plans such as microfinancing to help disaster-hit areas like the Tohoku region to "stand up on their feet."

Microfinancing started as a financing option for poor people ineligible for bank loans. No collateral is required.

Yunus was in Japan to attend a social business forum organized by Kyushu University, which launched a social business research center and the Grameen Creative Lab with Yunus. He also met with investors and business leaders to explore possible partnerships.

Yunus said it is a global trend that more for-profit companies, from chocolate makers to hedge fund companies, are keen to take the lead in social businesses because they have begun to feel that the current capitalist system doesn't offer solutions to social problems in the wake of the global economic meltdown triggered by the subprime loan crisis and global sovereign debt crisis.

"We have misinterpreted human beings. Human beings are neither robots nor moneymaking machines," he said. "We have to discover human beings and act as human beings."

Japanese companies are also jumping on the bandwagon to fulfill their corporate social responsibilities. Several have gotten involved in social businesses initiated by Yunus. For example, Fast Retailing Co. has been cooperating with Grameen Bank in Bangladesh since 2010.

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The Japan Times

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