Before his talk at our Student Salon, we sat down with Nazmus to discuss the importance of Social Business and a world of Three Zeros.
Please note: This interview has been edited for increased clarity and readability. Nazmus’s views are still fully represented.
Editor’s note: Nazmus refers to ‘Social Business’ in this interview. To better understand this concept, please see this extract from his talk:
“The Social Business model was pioneered by 2006 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Prof. Muhammad Yunus. It is a non-loss/non-dividend company, and perhaps the best tool for regenerative development because it combines the philanthropic purpose of a charity with the efficiency and financial sustainability of a traditional business. This business practice puts its social cause at the forefront, at the core of everything the social business company does. Investors can invest in the social business company to address a social cause and, after a certain length of time, the investor can withdraw the amount invested. Unlike profit-making companies, a Social Business’ success is determined by the amount of social impact it can create through a sustainable business cycle, with the aim of addressing poverty, environmental sustainability and unemployment.”
You mention it in your talk, but can you expand on your motivation behind your choice of topic?
The biggest motivation, I would say, is that I come from Bangladesh. I’ve seen how the economic development of Bangladesh with the current government in the past 10-12 years has been immense. And while this did have some positive effects on the overall population, certain groups of people were the biggest beneficiaries of it. In my talk, I talk about a woman called Mo. She lives in a very remote place in southern Bangladesh, and while the effects of economic development also reached her, the magnitude of that economic development did not. She was not the impact point.
I’m a part of the social impact sector because I want to mitigate these gaps, and the amount of marginalisation which is evident not just in Bangladesh but also throughout the world. Specifically in the Indian subcontinent, these gaps are huge. If you look at the past 100 or 150 years, certain groups of people or families have been 100 times or 200 times or sometimes even 1000 times wealthier than the majority of the population.
In order to address income inequality, I feel that the Social Business model is the solution for this. The Grameen Bank in Bangladesh has been operating with this model for 30 or 40 years, but it’s only in the last 10 to 15 years that the model has been institutionalised and conventionally practised all around the world. Certain governments, on very minute or granular stages, have experimented with it – and it’s turned out to be fruitful and very impactful.
I also chose this topic because, we – the current generation, the youth – are more environmentally conscious than any other previous generation, we are more conscious about diminishing the effects of social inequality in our world, and we are always more conscious about forging equality of opportunities amongst all income groups and amongst all socio-economic groups. These notions were present in the previous generation, but not practised widely. With our generation, it's all about accessibility, transparency, accountability – and these are all the like concepts that are provided within the Social Business model. Because the Social Business model talks about society as a whole and not just certain income groups.
Branching off from this, in your talk you highlight the importance of ‘a world of three zeros’, or ‘Zero Unemployment, Zero Net Carbon emissions and Zero Poverty.’ Could you expand on this concept and examples of working towards each ‘Zero’?
One of the first examples I'd like to provide is the Grameen Creative Lab, where I’m a research contributor. It's a consultancy company based in Wiesbaden, Germany. In partnership with Danone, the leading multinational nutrition-based company, Grameen formed a social business in Bangladesh called Grameen Danone. Bangladesh has a lot of malnourished children, and so what Grameen and Danone did with this social business is that they started producing high quality, cheap yoghurts, that were easily accessible to everyone in Bangladesh. In this way, they actually addressed this particular issue of malnutrition, meaning that when these children grow up they will be in a better position – health-wise – than the previous generation. This means that when they eventually enter the workforce, there’s a higher probability that they’ll be better professionals. Considering how Bangladeshi or South Asian people are inherently entrepreneurial, and how the economy of Bangladesh is actually driven by SMEs (small and medium enterprises), better health means that even those from low-income households who may have grown up malnourished can also become effective professionals and entrepreneurs. Grameen and Danone’s social business, therefore, addressed this social issue with a very future-forward perspective.
Another example would be Grameen GC Eye Hospital in Bangladesh, which provides high-quality eye care treatment and surgery to people from low-income backgrounds.
These areas – nutrition, health care – are ones extensively dominated by conventional, profit-driven, market forces. But with the presence of Grameen or other social businesses in these areas, there are very accurate and precise impact points – which are extremely impact-focused.
Zero poverty, zero net carbon emissions, and zero unemployment – these are the areas which, we the people of Grameen, the people in Social Business, are addressing. There’s the Yunus Environment Hub, a social business trying to forge and prosper environmental initiatives which are entrepreneurial in nature. Or Yunus Sports Hub, which is trying to empower disadvantaged communities with the help of sports – even collaborating with FC Barcelona in Spain. All these places, all these platforms, are creating a direct impact on disempowered communities who have been deprived for generations.
When we talk about zero poverty, the like, there cannot be a better example than the Grameen Bank – which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, alongside its founder Professor Yunus. It’s been accessing small scale microcredit loans to millions of people around the world. This model was replicated in over 60 countries, with certain countries even curating their own microcredit-style credit system.
Social Businesses have been operating with these three particular causes for years, but it’s something that has only been institutionalised and conceptualised into a particular model in the past 10 to 15 years. And in these past 10 to 15 years, things have accelerated.
You are hopeful of our generation’s desire and ability to end extreme poverty, in particular. What do you think is driving this initiative and desire to end this problem?
One of the big biggest drivers, and I would say one of the biggest motivations, is that our generation is the most powerful generation in the history of humanity because we have the ability to use the potential of technology. With the advent of technology, the advent of the internet, and the scale of globalisation, we are now more aware of stories of inequality all around the world. I can see someone of my exact age, for instance in Sudan or Rwanda, being deprived of something which is a basic right in our world such as access to clean drinking water. When we see that people of our age, people of our income group, people similar to us, are not getting the same access to certain necessities of life like us – we are emotionally and mentally agitated. I think this is one of the main drivers of the enthusiasm for change within our generation. The person-to-person connection, and the relationship-building between countries and societies is key.
Our generation also is inspired by the growth of young activists. Greta Thunberg, or Malala, for example - the inclusion of young activists is something sort of absent in the previous generation. There were activists like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela, but the advent of young activists is something which we have experienced extensively in our generation – and is a major drive for inspiration.
How can we work in our communities and take everyday action to achieve the goal of a world of three zeros?
In my talk, I mention how Social Business is a regenerative development based tool. It actually connects the best of both worlds – it has characteristics that are philanthropic in nature and driven by charity, and it is also inherently entrepreneurial because it has the financial sustainability and efficiency of a traditional business. For hundreds of years, people across the world have done community-based projects, philanthropic projects, fundraising-based projects – but the biggest difference between a charity and a social business is that a charity is a one-time money, whereas with a social business, it's unending. The money keeps coming back, because the profits earned from that project are invested back into the business to further expand and improve.
Therefore, if we try to implement small scale social business projects, it would require the same level of passion, effort, enthusiasm, accountability, and transparency from those involved in charity or philanthropy-based projects, yet the economics to it and the continual money is what makes it so successful. So for our generation, passionate and filled with ideas and creativity, rather than striving for change through just community-based philanthropy projects – we can do the same with social businesses.
Anyone can get involved, setting up a social business is easy. You need to have a plan, and know the seven notions of social business in order to operate fully within it. And if a social business wants to move towards a larger-scale impact, they can easily contact people from Grameen or any incubation-based programmes which are operating through the social business model. I personally was introduced to this particular social business based incubator in Bangladesh called YY Ventures, who – in the past five or six years – have collaborated with and helped more than 20 or 25 social businesses to actually launch themselves all around Asia. There are multiple platforms where social business enthusiasts can learn from, and the Internet has been the biggest teacher for me so far.
Social business is something that is inherently entrepreneurial – it just needs a lot of passion, and a lot of effort, and a lot of selflessness because you're not getting any money in your pockets since every of the profit goes back into the business. Social business is inherently society-based.
How has Covid-19 shaped your outlook and affected the ‘Horizon’ that you’re working towards? What are your hopes for the future?
The Covid pandemic, for me personally, has been a huge source of inspiration. We could see our loved ones being directly affected, and I’m sure all of us were indirectly affected in some way. This has been a once in a lifetime experience, and I’d say one which serves as an inspiration and motivation to our generation – because if we can tolerate the effects of Covid, we can stand any challenges in life.
Before Covid, the amount of work and amount of impact I was aiming to create was not as large. Through this period of the last two years, I’ve realised that I could have a very small amount of time in this world, and so I want to contribute to society as much as I can. Covid made us realise that life is not always about awards, prestige, and money, but it's about living – and living for others, more importantly. We are here for a very short time, and so the Covid pandemic has taught us that even if the initiatives we take in life do not lead to expected outcomes, they actually lead to knowledge and perspective, which is invaluable.
Transcribed and edited by Alana Gaglio.
The views and opinions presented in this interview belong to Md. Nazmus Sakib Khan — not Alana Gaglio, nor TEDxWarwick.
If you have any questions concerning the interview, or opinions expressed, do feel free to comment in the comments section, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.