Monday, November 17, 2008

Tech Awards 2008 - Muhammad Yunus

Wednesday night, my husband and I had the great privilege of attending the Tech Awards Gala along with 1,500 other Silicon Valley dwellers. This is the fourth time I’ve attended the gala and, as always, it was an immensely inspiring evening. What I like about the awards is the spirit behind them. There are oodles of awards and rewards in the industry recognizing pure technical innovation, but these awards honor those who use technology to benefit humanity.

Muhammad Yunus

The first award, The James C. Morgan Global Humanitarian Award, presented by Mike Splinter of Applied Materials, was given to Muhammad Yunus, the father of micro lending and winner of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize.
Splinter speaks of this award as a “reminder of all things going right”. Yunus’ efforts to focus on those who are marginalized and excluded, while being sensitive local customs, are partly responsible for making the world flat.

Yunus’ acceptance speech was stirring. He is not just a doer, but a visionary. He speaks of his belief that “all human beings are gifted with unlimited human potential”. His desire is to see the need for a poverty museum so that when a child asks what poverty is parents would have to take the child to a poverty museum because it does not exist anywhere in the world.

He knew his audience too. He spoke of the world that is coming next: “Silicon Valley is the midwife of what will be created in the next 20 years”, making many in attendance sit a little taller.

His intentions are clearly golden when he said that his effort was created “out of desperation” to help those in need. He told stories to exemplify that “poverty is not created by poor people; rather it is created by the system.” He described how micro lending can cause a ripple effect of social change and help improve lives with dignity. A sixteen dollar micro loan to the owner of a donut business, allowed him to build a home and send his children to school, thus breaking the cycle of poverty in his lineage. A $300 house loan allows one to build a home with a safe, tin roof rather than a thatch or leaf roof. He received a knowing chuckle throughout the audience when he said that the world now realizes that the poor are better credit risks then the rich.

Yunus’ efforts do not stop at micro lending. Bangladeshi children used to suffer from the disease nyctalopia, commonly known as night-blindness. Yunus learned that the disease is due to Vitamin A deficiency. Vitamin A can be delivered either through vegetables or tablets. Yunus chose to not go down the tablet path because he felt that once people are given tablets, they will forever be dependent on them. Instead, he helped facilitate the efforts to sell vegetable seeds in penny packets. Fortunately Bangladesh soil is very fertile and night-blindness is now history there.

Yunus likes to push the envelope in the realm of expectations. He worked with Danone to create yoghurt that delivers micronutrients missing in the diet of the children in Bangladesh. Danone quickly agreed to the project and the fantastic news is that they learned that children’s nutrients can be replenished within 9-10 months.
Once Danone agreed to develop the yoghurt, Yunus further insisted that Danone ought to make this a social business. He explained that after Danone recouped their investment costs, the remaining profits should be reinvested to reach more poor people. In other words, the business ought to be driven by a social objective.

Next, he insisted on using only biodegradable containers. Danone once again agreed with Yunus and found corn-based containers that are biodegradable. Still not satisfied, he asked: “Will the containers be eaten?” No, of course they will not be eaten. With a gleam in his eyes Yunus said: “I like to eat ice cream cones.” I’m sure you are not surprised to learn that Danone is currently working on edible containers.

That’s all for today, next time I will tell you about some of this year’s Tech Award Laureates.

Photos: Tech Awards -, Muhammed Yunus -, Danone yoghurt in Bangladesh -


Relyn Lawson said...

This is so interesting. I find it so amazing and hopeful that there is inspiration to be found everywhere. And that in all walks of life, so many people are busy doing good.

Dutchbaby said...

Dear Relyn,
This is my favorite business dinner to attend every year because it is so incredibly inspiring! I'm looking forward to telling you about the other winners.

A Cuban In London said...

Thanks for this insightful post. Very inspiring.

Greetings from London.

Dutchbaby said...

Dear Cuban,

You're welcome. I know these two posts are a bit serious, I promise to bring something more light-hearted next.

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