A closer encounter with Muhammad Yunus
Q&A sessions allow students to ask questions of Muhammad Yunus, microcredit pioneer and Nobel Peace Prize winner, during his April 4 visit to campus.
It’s not every day that you get a chance to talk to the world leaders you admire.
And yet, that’s exactly what senior Aisha Mitchell was able to do April 4 at Yeager Recital Hall during a Q&A with economist Muhammad Yunus, whose revolutionary microcredit system has helped millions of poor people around the world.
“I’ve always loved his work,” the international studies major and Periclean Scholar said after getting Yunus’ autograph at the end of the session. “He saw a system he didn’t agree with and created his own. We have a lot in common.”
Like Mitchell, dozens of Elon students were able to interact with Yunus, who, besides delivering Elon’s Convocation for Honors address Tuesday, spent Wednesday answering questions in two separate Q&A sessions.
In the morning, Yunus met with members of the Elon Microfinance Initiative (EMI), an organization founded in 2009 by three business students and inspired by Yunus’ book, Creating a World Without Poverty. In the afternoon, he met with Periclean Scholars and students taking Global Studies courses.
During the morning session, junior Kelly Cavanaugh, EMI president, shared with Yunus some of the things the group has achieved so far. These included supporting eight international small businesses through Kiva, the online nonprofit organization that allows people to lend money through the Internet, and providing consulting support to three local businesses.
Yunus encouraged the group to keep exploring possibilities to help those in need. He told them to first decide on an objective and put some thought into it before jumping into action.
“Social business is problem-solving,” he said. “You have to identify the problem first, not academically…. but just as a person.”
He told them to make a list of the problems and zero in on those they consider most important. Only then they can start thinking about a solution, he said, adding that having an active imagination is an important tool during this process.
Throughout both sessions, Yunus encouraged students to chart their own paths rather than relying on existing models and doctrines. He said that stubbornness is the key to the success of a social business because it usually goes against the rules or what’s traditionally done.
“When people say it can’t be done, you say ‘Yes, it can be done,’” he said. “If you feel passionate about it, stay on it; create new things and be defining. Don’t follow the dotted line. You create your own dots so others can follow.”
This sentiment resonated with Mitchell, who felt emboldened by Yunus’ words.
“You’re told to do things a certain way your whole life,” she said. “Nobody is challenging anything and I feel there are things that need to change. He’s inspirational.”