Business as a force for good: Two perspectives

Published December 2, 2021, 12:02 AM

by Sonny Coloma


Sonny Coloma

“Business can be a force for good if you could transform it,” declared Nobel Peace laureate Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank, as he delivered the keynote address at the virtual Rotary Presidential Conference in Asia beamed from Manila on Nov. 26.

He envisioned such transformation as bringing about three beneficial outcomes: Zero net carbon emission, zero wealth concentration, and zero unemployment.

Zero net carbon emission would end global warming that is threatening planet earth’s sustainability.

“Our house is burning, but we are partying,” noted Yunus, “so we must stop the fire before we celebrate” the further acceleration of economic growth and the onset of the Fourth Industrial Revolution — even as global warming continues unchecked. He warned that the mindless pursuit of gross domestic product (GDP) growth and untrammelled industrialization are bringing the world to the brink of an ecological meltdown.

He declared that business should foster an enlightened collectivism, as opposed to the unbridled pursuit of self-interest.

To illustrate, he recalled how the Grameen Bank rejected the view that poor people are not credit worthy. On the contrary, he said, it’s the banks that are not people worthy. He noted that banks focus on cities and lending to rich men.

Grameen Bank reversed this by focusing on rural areas and lending to poor women. While traditional banks give loans only on the basis of collateral (such as real estate; or deposit holdouts) Grameen Bank loans money on the basis of trust — and attains nearly 100 percent timely repayment.

Grameen bank’s unconventional model of microfinance has thrived for the past 45 years. It has even been exported to the United States where there are now 27 branches in 15 states serving more than 100,000 borrowers. Average size of loans is $500 per borrower and 99.5 percent repayment is being achieved.

He pointed out that the coronavirus pandemic has worsened poverty and enlarged the gap between rich and poor. He called for the social reorientation of the pharmaceutical industry to remove vaccine inequity that has placed the low-income nations at an even greater disadvantage.

He lamented the yawning rich-poor gap, saying it is “shameful” that 99 percent of global wealth is concentrated in the hands of one percent.”

He also called for a drive to encourage young entrepreneurs through socially oriented banking that will fund start-ups. “Finance is the oxygen of entrepreneurship.”

He deplored the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to wipe out jobs and push out thousands of people into joblessness. “Making people jobless should not be the purpose of technology,” he said.

On the other hand, he said, technology — just like business — could be harnessed as a force for good.

Yunus’ theme on business as a force for good was amplified by Cherie Nursalim who delivered the second business keynote at the virtual Rotary Presidential Conference in Asia.

“In a world of rising political, economic and ethnic tensions and divisions, it is vital to achieve unity in diversity,” said Nursalim.

Nursalim is vice chairman of GITI Group, a diversified Indonesia-based business group partnering with world-renowned brands throughout the Asia Pacific region and serves on the International and Asia Advisory Boards for Columbia University and MIT Sloan School of Management respectively.

She spoke extensively on Tri Hata Karana (Triple Happiness Ways) that is being advocated by Indonesia’s United in Diversity Foundation. This is the traditional philosophy for life that translates literally to the three causes of well being, or three reasons for prosperity, namely: harmony with God, harmony among people and harmony with nature and the environment.

Tri Hata Karana (THK) is, in turn, linked with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) espoused by the United Nations that are, in turn, conceptually stratified into a three-tiered hierarchy: Spiritual goals (the last two), sustainability goals (the middle five) and humanitarian and social goals (the first 10).

According to Nursalim, Indonesia’s hosting of the G20 Summit 2022 in Bali is spiritually connected with the G20 Rome 2021 Summit, especially if viewed from the context of Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si, or Praise be to You (God). It calls on humanity to care for God’s creation (by protecting the environment), manifest solidarity with the poor and oppressed, and promote people-centered technological and economic development — all of which coincide with the principles of THK.

Otto Scharmer’s Presencing Theory U is also being propagated by the Unity in Diversity Foundation. According to Professor Scharmer, the Journey of the U involves “shifting from a personal, individual-centered approach to a collective, group-centered one in order to move towards a more sustainable, healthy life.”

Hence, Nursalim says, there must be a transformation from Ego to Eco, a movement from self-centered to being collective-centric.

For this to be achieved, she refers to a process of “bridging leadership” that is advocated by philanthropist Peggy Rockefeller Dulany, CEO of Synergos Institute whose avowed mission is to”mobilize resources and bridge social and economic divides to reduce poverty and increase equity around the world.” Nursalim said Rotarians are well poised to serve as “bridging leaders.”