A World of Three Zeros: Insights from the Y&Y Fellows Meeting with Professor Muhammad Yunus

November 26, 2020

On November 23rd, Y&Y Fellows had one of their most exciting Zoom meetings of 2020. With his optimistic wisdom and his inspiring words, Professor Muhammad Yunus joined our virtual room! In his talk, he emphasized the new path we need to build towards a more sustainable world and encouraged us to take on the responsibility to do so. As always, we learned from his experience and had new insights about our role as young social entrepreneurs.  

So, we are here to share some of the learnings with you.

During the call, professor Yunus started his talk with something that has been in our news channels and in our minds constantly: the coronavirus vaccine. Only with an accessible vaccine will we be able to protect ourselves from the virus and stop it from spreading. He recalled we have had good testing results so far, but that we run a serious risk of making the vaccine a source of “super profit-making”, instead of a means to save lives. prof. Yunus expressed his concern that companies responsible for producing and distributing the vaccine will prioritize profits over people’s well-being. However, in his words “we should not make profit out of fear of death”, as “this is an occasion to save lives, and not to make money”. He also expressed his concern that, once vaccines start being sold, rich countries would buy them all. Some have already stated they will buy twice, three times, four, five… nine times as much as their population needs!

As an alternative for this, Prof. Yunus states that the coronavirus vaccine should be patent-free, meaning that every country should be able to produce it. In his words, the vaccine “is like sunshine: you cannot patent sunshine, it belongs to everybody!” For him, this is an issue we should raise our voice about and make sure all people have access to.For Prof. Yunus, the pandemic is an opportunity to rethink the direction we are going as a human race. He emphasized that we should not desire to go back to life before the pandemic, pretending it was just a nightmare as soon as it is over. “What do we want to go back to?  Before the pandemic, we had a terrible situation. We were all on a train going towards Global Warming and several inequalities”.  Prof. Yunus observes that some countries leaders have neglected our global problems in the name of the economy, arguing they’re protecting their people. But in truth, they are not concretely taking actions to make the Earth more sustainable for their people. “If we continue neglecting it, by 2040, we will have increased 1.5 degrees Celsius the Earth’s temperature. And if we go beyond that, by 2050, the Earth will not be a livable place anymore”. Prof. Yunus reminded us that the next generation will continue to protest that we are taking their future. They are aware of this situation, but many politicians fail to acknowledge their responsibility and take action. As a result, for him, “human beings are the most endangered species on the planet. And who made us endangered?  We did! We are a self-destructive species! And we have a date. We know that, in a lifetime, our planet might not be able to accommodate us anymore”.

The pandemic stopped this self-destructive train. We can now get off it and say we’re not going back to the “suicidal journey we were on before”. For Prof. Yunus, we will not have this opportunity again. “It came unexpectedly, but it happened, so we have to make good use of it”. So what we need to do is to build a new train to take us to a new destination: “not the destination of death, but to a destination of the future”.

One of the most concerning issues that Prof. Yunus has identified is wealth inequality. He explained that “all wealth is concentrated in 1% of the people. Some people are on the extreme of wealth and access to resources. But most people, 99% of them, are on the other extreme. This is what the pandemic has shown us”. Because of the pandemic, many  people lost their sources of income. With lockdown,  their income are gone, their savings are gone, their opportunities are gone. They are now helpless. “We now have to answer the question: why were they in that situation to begin with?”

To illustrate the reality of wealth inequality, Prof. Yunus compares it to cancer. “Look at your body: it functions because the blood circulates. Imagine if all the blood was concentrated in one finger. That creates a sickness. That’s what happens with wealth concentration. It’s a sickness that will kill us”. To prevent the world from getting even sicker, we need to change the way it was designed, making it more inclusive and fair. For Prof. Yunus, the role of microcredit loans can be crucial to do that. Access to credit is one of the most unequal sources of income for informal workers, which make up 70% of the population in many countries. When the financing rules are controlled by the rich, they exclude most people, who do not have support from governments and are seen as irresponsible and undeserving. “The financial sector needs to accept that human beings are not job seekers, they are entrepreneurs”. 

One of the current trends that might prevent us from promoting inclusion is the advent of new technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning. Prof. Yunus warned us that those technologies are replacing us: “it’s happening everywhere, because machines can do better than human beings. They don’t forget, they become more intelligent”. This problem is worsened as we look to maximize profits and make the production process cheaper, making human beings redundant. For Prof. Yunus, “human beings should not be at the mercy of their creation!”

So, he encouraged us to imagine a better world. “We need a world of three zeros: Zero carbon emissions, zero wealth concentration and zero unemployment.” For him, imagination is the starting point of creating that world. In his words,  “If you think of something, it can happen.” The world we imagine puts trust over profit, elevates the poor and includes women in all its sectors and rights. 

When answering a question from one of the Y&Y Fellows in the call, Prof. Yunus mentioned that his inspiration comes from the young people who have shown to have the power to change the world. And he reminded us of our role: “This is not the time to just watch. It’s the time to act!”

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