Business and the fight against poverty: A conference with Muhammad Yunus

12 November 2012

Muhammad Yunus, winner of the 2006 Nobel peace prize, founder of Grameen bank and co-president  of the HEC “Social Business: Enterprise and poverty” Chair was the exceptional guest at a conference held October 29th 2012 at HEC, on the theme “How can firms help to alleviate poverty”. More than 500 people, including students and HEC graduates, young entrepreneurs of the “Youth we can” movement and business executives attended the conference which took place in HEC’s grand amphitheater, which was packed for this third visit of the Bangladeshi economist since the creation of the Chair.

Watch the video of the conference on iTunesU

Muhammad Yunus, Martin Hirsch, Gilles Vermot-Desroches (Schneider Electric), François Rouvier (Renault)

In his introductory speech, Eloic Peyrache, Director of the school, underlined the growing appetite of HEC students for social business.  “I cannot remember the number of people who said that they’ve been fully inspired by a conference from Professor Yunus when founding their own social businesses. I sincerely hope that new ideas and willingness to contribute will emerge from our talks tonight”.

Like the groundbreaking project launched in 2005 by Danone (the first Social Business Chair partner) and the Grameen Bank in the fight against infant malnutrition in Bangladesh, corporate social responsibility initiatives develop within companies which have seen many large successes throughout. "There are solutions to solve our economic problems," said the inventor of the Social Business concept.

Gilles Vermot-Desroches, Senior VP Sustainability at Schneider Electric of Schneider electric, and François Rouvier, VP, sustainable mobility, social business program of Renault, shared their ideas on how to reduce poverty. The two companies joined Danone and now sponsor the HEC Social Business Chair. Schneider’s “BipBop program” (Business, Investment and People at the Bottom of the Pyramid) wants to make electricity more easily accessible, affordable and easy to use in a world where 1.6 million people don’t have access to it. A partnership was created with the Grameen Shakti network to help bring solar energy to 50,000 homes in Bangladesh. Meanwhile, Mobiliz program by Renault makes mobility easier for people in precarious situations, helping them to promote their economic and social integration. François Rouvier underlined that “Renault has a concrete responsibility in France”.

Martin Hirsch, former Active Solidarity High Commissioner, former President of Emmaus France, who is also currently Chairman of the Civic Service and co-chair holder of the Social Business Chair, was also present at the conference. He called for a global effort in the fight against poverty, underlining aspects of employment, housing, energy and mobility. "We should not have to choose between food and heat," said the instigator of the RSA.

They were followed by the latest generation of social entrepreneurs, the "changemakers", who were invited on stage to present their projects and share their experiences in social business. François Desroziers, co-founder of SPEAR, Rozenn Kerviel (Graduate Certificate of Social Business - 2011), Marketing and Business Development manager of FEDECOVERA and Anne-Claire Gosselin, Project Manager of Macadam, are both innovative projects which support responsible finance, local and sustainable agriculture and social reintegration.

"You are the most powerful young generation of the history”, said Muhammad Yunus, "each one of you can change the world." According to him, the problems we face today hold many opportunities for young entrepreneurs. "Social Business is solving human problems," he added.

Muhammad Yunus sharing his experience was the highlight of the evening, which just began as a workshop designed to get together students and young entrepreneurs for a chance to think about each other’s projects and exchange their ideas and their thoughts on the uncertainties of social business. They had all been prepared and led by the Youth We Can network, with the help and support of MakeSense and danone.communities, Danone’s social business incubator.

To conclude the conference, Muhuammad Yunus addressed the students, tempted by his social business adventure, with an encouraging message about perseverance: “Don’t try to persuade the whole world about what you are doing, just do it, and never give up!”

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