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Four Lessons from Nobel Peace Laureate Muhammad Yunus

Muhammad Yunus believes entrepreneurs will save the world. Awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, known as “Banker to the Poor”, founder the first ever social business, Grameen Bank, internationally recognized as a world leader, the list could go on and on…

Prof Muhammad Yunus also recipient of the US Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal

But the most amazing thing about Muhammad Yunus is his wit and personality. He is what you can call a true entrepreneur that just happens to be very passionate, conscious and self aware of the problems the world as one single community needs to face.

Keeping it short and sweet, Muhammad Yunus has had a profound influence on the way the world as we know it does business. Now that you get the idea of how massive Yunus is, here are four learnings from his life and work that are valuable for the world’s saviours, social entrepreneurs:

What you, as social entrepreneurs, are actually doing is changing mindsets

Yunus promoted societal and cultural change as well as organizational change. His overarching goal has always been the alleviation of poverty and since day one he was ready to challenge cultural traditions when they stood in the way.

As Gandhi once said “Your beliefs become your thoughts, your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions, your actions become your habits, your habits become your values, your values become your destiny.”

Mindsets are a powerful leverage point for cultural and systemic change. If we want to consciously create the world we live in, we must also work towards shifting some of the world’s old mindsets.

Set a big, scary goal… and don’t forget about it

Yunus’s dream has always been the “total eradication of poverty from the world”. He always refers to his desire of having poverty put in a museum, and children in the future needing to go visit the museum to understand what was this phenomenon instead of living in a world where it is a fact and tangible thing.

What sets him apart from many other leaders of our time is the fact that this vision has guided him since he put his mind to it more than 40 years ago. Day after day Yunus has worked with all his strength and single-mindedly against all kinds of obstacles or challenges to convert this dream into reality.

As a social entrepreneur many challenges will arise, even more than a traditional entrepreneur faces. This is why having this “almost impossible to reach” north star of a goal will help you set forth an inspiring vision, the important and hardest thing will be to stick with it.

Be flexible and adaptable

This may seem contradictory with the previous lesson, but while Yunus’s goal of eradicating poverty from the world has remained the same, he has changed his strategies and tactics innumerable times. For example, he first wanted his Grameen Bank to be a part of an existing commercial bank. Later he tried to become a part of a government bank, and finally, he decided Grameen should be a totally independent bank.

Yunus frequently changed his short term goals as well as his strategies and tactics in order to be one step closer to success, reaching the ultimate big and scary goal. For example, the goals for the expansion of the Bank were revised often as were the goals for the percentage of borrowers who were women. Now, a new system of rating has been implemented in each branch regarding five goals, one of them being that all the children of borrowers are attending school.

I invite you to take a look at my previous article about the Lean Startup Method to understand how, in true Lean fashion, Yunus was willing to change strategies, tactics, and goals over and over to fail fast and be closer to success. While he never deviated from his vision, he was ready to change everything else as circumstances changed. He was guided by what worked, not by theoretical concepts.

Long-term leadership is the key to true impact

Yunus had to wait more than 3 decades to be recognized with a Nobel Prize, most of the time not even knowing if his ideas were going to succeed or even be impactful. Just as a marathon requires different skills and abilities than a sprint, the change a long-term leadership creates requires a somewhat different set of skills and abilities than those important for short term results.

Long-term leadership is a rare way of approaching ideas, making it scarcer than ever, maybe because of the over-mentioned need for millenials to have everything right this second, or just because of the fast paced world must of current generations grew up in.

The thing to remember is that even though short-term wins are necessary to create momentum and to ensure long-term survival, emphasizing on the importance to train and cultivate long-term leadership skills and mindsets, along with being flexible enough to adapt, setting a big, crazy goal, and be willing to change mindsets is what, in the end, create the true impact social entrepreneurs aim for.

Sources and additional information


About Our Collaborator Series

Written by external collaborators, the opinions expressed in this series of articles are the author’s own and do not reflect the official view of Emzingo or Emzingo-U.


A naturally creative and curious mind with a great ability to learn and adapt quickly to changing environments, Elvira is a Customer Experience and Innovation professional with experience in consulting and social responsibility, constantly looking for experiences that foster new challenges and contribute to her passion on issues related to sustainability, social impact and innovation.

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