A while back I had the unique chance to hang a little with Muhammad Yunus in Uganda. The professor from Bangladesh is no other than a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate for the implementation for micro credits and a shining icon of social business. Now he and his supporters are trying to make the world a better place, in real.
You might have heard about Muhhamad Yunus. If not, you have definitely heard about his impact and the things he has enabled. The economic is the founder of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh with a simple yet powerful idea.
Millions of engaged but poor entrepreneurs and peasants in this third world country have no chance to grow economically as no bank is granting them credits. This gap was wisely bridged by Yunus and his bank as they started to give out small loans to entrepreneurs of the lower class. Not as a present but with the idea, that a considerate interest rate makes the investment meaningful and the credit taker is responsible for his or her economical success.
This concept was so powerful that it made millions progress in business and in society, even allowing entrepreneurs to achieve moderate wealth. The Grameen Bank was a social game changer in Bangladesh. Looking beyond the sheer economics Muhammad Yunus was given the Nobel Peace Price in 2006 making him an Icon of the Social Business Idea.
After he left Garmeen Bank, he holds fantastic speeches around the world that captivate people with a conscience and a heart. Among them was Saskia Bruysten, a very successful and charismatic business consultant. The astounding German had made her fortune and seen most of the world, which made her think beyond the world she lived in and about the impact she really had.
She witnessed one of the speeches of Yunus and was inspired to combine the good intentions of social work with the mechanics of good working businesses and consultation. She literally stalked the professor around the globe and convinced him to work together with her.
They took another partner and founded Yunus Social Business, a social capital venture fund, which was poised to improve the life’s of millions especially in economically weak regions, from Colombia via Haiti to Uganda, almost everwhere, where an capital infrastructure for social business is needed. They focus on businesses that primarely improve the social circumstances of the employers and consumers.
But every good deed needs a story to be told and that’s how I got into the picture. Saskia and I have a common friend and creative agency head who made the spin to introduce me to her. Together with Tom, a fantastic photographer from Manchester we were asked to hop along a trip of Yunus Social Business and supporters in Uganda. I didn’t think twice and we booked the tickets to Kampala.
I knew it’s going to be tough, because being all by yourself and acting as director, journalist, cameraman, sound guy, and gaffer boy is a challenge. Not mentioning the climate and the communication with the locals. But actually these challenges prepared me for a quite a few projects last year.
And despite the fact, that I could only shoot a few analogue rolls in the duration of one week I am so happy how everything turned out.
The first days we were still in a small group and we tried to capture scenes, that explain the ideas of some of the businesses Yunus Social Business is supporting in Uganda. Among them was a small recycling entity, which solved a bunch of problems. There is quite a bit of plastic rubbish on the streets of Kampala.
By employing waste collectors for a fair deal you can give jobs to unemployed and clean the streets to a certain degree. The recycled product is a grain of plastic, which could be turned and molded in almost everything you want. One bestseller, made out recycled plastic in Uganda, is a plastic sheet that is used in the construction industry.
For me the collecting was the most interesting action. The characters working on the streets were really unique and in a way they are heroes. Like Judy and Rose, who receive 10,000 Shilling for a kilogram of plastic waste, which is around 2.30 Euro. They really enjoyed being filmed and acted Telenovela-style and posed for me. I have to say that people in general are very happy to be photographed in Uganda. I have it otherwise in other African countries, but Uganda was just awesome in this regard and what a beautiful country
Another great project was Spouts of Water, which is producing very effective water filters made from clay. The factory in Kampala was very small, but the intensity of the workers was awesome. From selecting the right mix of the materials to the pressing and burning of the pots. I particularly got friendlyy with Mariam, who was the soul of the factory, cooking for everyone and keeping things tidy.
When Muhammad Yunus arrived in Uganda, he had a full program, meeting politicians and partners. He is not only a smart consultant, but a very inspirational figure for change. So quite often he is greeted like a Guru or messiah, who improves the lives of the ones he is talking to. Together with Muhammad we visited some of the beacon projects of Yunus Social Business.
One of my favorite trips was to Bussi Island, in Lake Victoria, not far from Entebbe. It’s home of Moses, a Uganda born Sheffield-raised entrepreneur, who came back to the land of his father. Bussi Island is known for its superior quality pineapple. But the local farmers had a bunch of problems.
They barely managed to harvest all the fruits, they didn’t know what to do in outside the harvest season. And because the travel to the markets and negotiations with the middlemen was always so intense, they barely made a profit.
So Moses founded Jali Organic, a collective of local pineapple farmer, who bring in the exotic fruit into a modest little factory (one small building) where they are dried and sold to international markets. So the farmers don’t have to go long distances, they don’t lose parts of the harvest and they are busy all year long. A credit of Yunus Social Business now enables Moses and his farmers to build a larger factory space and grow. The demand for the dried fruits is very large, especially Japan digs the pineapples from Jali Organic.
Despite being in his late 70s Yunus is a good sport. The only way to reach the island is via little canoe ferries. Three to four passengers could squeeze into the tiny wooden box. There had been talks and precautions about wearing safety vests, but he jumped in without hesitation. And the vests hadn’t been there anyway, improvisation is king in Africa anyway.
I jumped into the canoe as well, because it was one of these rare moments catching him alone.
When we approached the shore of Bussi Island the sound of loud drums welcomed us. Wild and colorful dances of girls made a proper first impression and Yunus was right away enchanted by the locals. The dancing continued even on the trucks taking us to the factory. I was filming and photographing all the time and could barely hold myself not to fall of the car. It was kind a rush to the head and I loved the intensity.
At the site the Professor was introduced to the processed and the many people, who are involved in the process. And he really struck a cord with everyone knowing exactly how to address which folks. I think, that is eventually his secret.
Together with Saskia and the crew of Yunus Social business they have already helped over 2 million people worldwide to provide health care, education, energy, clean water and employment. They have created over 15,000 jobs on all continents.
And the 77-year-old Muhammad Yunus is still full of energy to continue his journey to inspire and enable a new generation of social entrepreneurs. Especially those, who are struggling hard and still have so much to give to their communities.