Bangladesh is scoring much better than in the past on indicators such as women’s economic empowerment, their increased mobility, maternal mortality, and infant mortality all of which signal the increased emancipation of women.
Lamiya Morshed is the Executive Director of Yunus Centre, the global hub for social business activities of Nobel Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus. She has been involved with the organization since its inception as the Yunus Secretariat in 2006 and its formal incorporation in 2008. She has worked with Grameen for more than 23 years. In 1994, she joined Grameen Trust, which supports and implements poverty-focused microcredit programs in more than 45 countries. During her tenure at Grameen Trust and Yunus Centre, she had participated and presented at high level international forums, conferences and summits around the world on the subject of microcredit and social business.
In addition to her responsibilities at the Yunus Centre, she serves as the Managing Director of Grameen Healthcare Trust. Lamiya also serves as a board member of the following social businesses – Grameen Healthcare Services Ltd, Grameen Creative Lab (Germany), Grameen Intel, Grameen Uniqlo and Japan Automechanic Co Ltd. She is a member of the Management Committee of Grameen Caledonian College of Nursing (GCCN), a joint venture nursing collegue established by Grameen Healthcare Trust and Glasgow Caledonian University, Scotland.
As you are a business development professional and have work experiences from home and abroad, what is your opinion regarding the challenges for our women of the different class in Bangladesh?
Even though an increasing number of women within our society are working, women still have to fight the stereotypes of what is considered women’s role in society. In workplaces, structural changes are still needed regarding equality of pay for the same work as men. Upholding of laws that exist to protect women’s rights is still a major challenge in Bangladesh, as well as in other countries. Those women, who have a job or career, find it challenging to balance the career and family, as family concerns are still primarily considered a woman’s responsibility. But we have come far in Bangladesh, and I am hopeful about the future.
Considering your knowledge regarding the Green model of development and empowering women, would you please provide us with your thoughts how things have changed for women over the years?
We have seen quite a transformation in the lives of women in the rural parts of the country. And this is in large part due to the work of organizations like Grameen Bank and other large NGOs that worked to empower women in the village, right at their doorstep. Bangladesh is scoring much better than in the past on indicators such as women’s economic empowerment, their increased mobility, maternal mortality, and infant mortality all of which signal the increased emancipation of women. It is a sign of women empowerment that millions of rural women are now small business owners, whereas it was considered taboo for women to handle money in the 70’s or even as late as the 80’s.
You have been involved with the Yunus Center and helped in developing many businesses over the years. Would you please give us a short account of this?
As we have seen for some time, traditional capitalism, which focuses on profit maximization, does not solve many social problems. In fact, it exacerbates them in many cases. We see an increasing rate of unemployment, environmental degradation, growing inequality, in the developed countries where traditional capitalism is thriving.
As such, we are promoting a new kind of business, social business – which is special type of business dedicated exclusively to solving social problems and not personal monetary gain. It is a business, in that it has to cover costs, and that enables it to expand. The difference between social business and a charity is that the latter is always dependent on outside funding. But Social Businesses runs on their engine and produces their own money so that the services can be provided continuously. This also allows products and services to improve, and more and more people can be reached with these much-needed services.
A large number of social businesses have been created in the last ten years in Bangladesh and around the world tackling issues as diverse as education, healthcare, provision of clean water, renewable energy, protecting the environment, and so on.
What are your thoughts on how business mindsets are changing around the world?
Our traditional mindset is that people who want to make money go into business. However, we are promoting the idea that people who wish to do well can also involve themselves in business that also aim to benefit the society and its people. There is a choice to do traditional business, social business, or both.
Now we are encountering more youths from Bangladesh and around the world who are motivated by a philanthropic calling, rather than a monetary one. We are observing a change in the mindsets of the youth. As Professor Yunus said, “When you delink the idea of business from personal money making, it becomes all about using your creativity to solve problems that you care about.” That is something that seems to motivate people everywhere.
As a thought center, what is the vision of the Yunus Center?
Our vision is to create a poverty-free world. As Professor Yunus says, “Unless you imagine the world we want to live in, it will never happen”. Just as science fiction motivates us to invent world-changing technologies that never existed before, we need to create the social fictions of the world we would like to see and work towards creating it.