Nobel laureate on highs & lows of life

Muhammad Yunus, the poor man's banker from Bangladesh, rolled out the recipe for super- happiness on Monday.

By Devadeep Purohit
  • Published 23.01.18
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Muhammad Yunus at Kalam on Monday. (Bishwarup Dutta)

Victoria Memorial: Muhammad Yunus, the poor man's banker from Bangladesh, rolled out the recipe for super- happiness on Monday.

"Making money is happiness, but making other people happy is super happiness," said the Bangladeshi economist and civil society leader, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for founding Grameen Bank and pioneering the concepts of microcredit and microfinance.

Yunus was in Calcutta to take part in the Tata Steel Kolkata Literary Meet, held in association with The Telegraph and co-organised by Victoria Memorial. He spoke about his latest book, A World of Three Zeroes, which focuses on zero poverty, zero unemployment, and zero carbon emissions. Excerpts from the conversation:

Mother's influence: Yunus spoke about his humble background in rural Bangladesh, where he grew up with eight siblings. As he recounted those days, he spoke about the influence his mother, who could only study up to fourth grade, had on him.

"She had little formal education but was amazing. She could recite poems after poems and sing songs for us. She would tell us Islamic stories... And she knew all about India's freedom struggle...."

His mother encouraged him to help the poor, which later inspired him to set up Grameen Bank in 1976.

Leadership qualities: Yunus, who helmed Grameen Bank for over two decades, said he never felt he was a leader. "I am a loner and I don't mind that," he said.

The man who counts Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary as his friends said leadership to him was defying things others have been doing and pursuing things one considered right. "Leadership is all about changing and crossing the barriers. In today's world, a leader has to take a quantum leap," said Yunus, who revolutionised the concept of banking for the poor and introduced credit for beggars going against the advice of his colleagues at Grameen bank.

Disappointment: "I could not do a lot of things because of government obstacles," admitted Yunus. The Bangladesh government had accused him of treating Grameen Bank as his "personal property" and there were allegations that the group was "sucking blood from the poor".

"I was told I couldn't continue as managing director of the bank I had founded as I had passed the age of retirement. I was told this when I was 71, but the retirement age was 60. It felt awful...," he said.