Creating a World Without Poverty Book Review

September 23, 2009

Creating a world without poverty coverMuhammad Yunus’s book, “Creating a world without poverty: Social business & the future of capitalism” is an excellent book for those interested in changing the world through enterprise.  As an aspiring social entrepreneur, I found the book to be very inspirational.  As I eagerly devoured the book, I found myself often counting how many pages I had left to read (holding a false hope that the number had magically not declined).  I would highly recommend ‘Creating a world without poverty’ to anyone actively interested in making the world a better place.   In fact, I think that the more people who read this book & embrace its ideas, the more likely it is that we will be able to put poverty into the past within our lifetimes.

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As with all books, this one has some pro’s and some con’s.  While I could certainly rave for some time about the inspirational aspects of this book or the spectacular success of the Grameen family of companies, there is one particular benefit that I’d like to highlight.  Through this book, Muhammad Yunus has shared his ideas for a future world and specific actions we can take to get there.  ‘Creating a world without poverty’ is chalk full of creative solutions to the world’s problems along with clear instructions on how to implement them.  Reading the book is akin to visiting an idea farm; Yunus has scattered the seeds of great ideas throughout the pages & it is up to the reader to harvest those dreams & cultivate them.

As with most things in life, the flaw to Yunus’ book is directly related to what makes it such a great read.  The flourishing of ideas that Yunus shares is spectacular, but several of the how-to guides that he recommends seem overly prescriptive.  I would caution future readers to use Yunus’ ideas as a jumping off point, rather than following his instructions unquestioningly.  One idea that struck me was his assertion that a social business must be a “non-loss, non-dividend” company.  Essentially, Yunus belabors the point that profits from social businesses should be used to repay investors the full value of their investment.  He asserts that after investors are repaid,  all profits should be used to fuel the future growth of the business.    While I think it would be ideal to see several social businesses in existence that fully re-invest their profits, I don’t believe that definition of a social business will be able to successfully scale.  I think the ultimate goal of any social business should be to help the maximum number of people rise above the poverty line.  In many cases, social businesses will need to make a profit & pay dividends to their investors in order to attract greater investment.  Greater investment will allow those businesses to expand and scale rapidly, which will in turn help more at the bottom of the pyramid rise up.   I plan to dedicate a blog post to this topic, but lets face it-investors who are willing to invest in a business for no return are going to be the same people who currently give money to charities and foundations.  Granted, social businesses will enable them to keep giving the same dollar over and over, but I believe that Yunus’s very tight definition of a social business may not be the best long-term answer for industry.

I believe that “Creating a world without poverty” sets many idealistic goals that we should work & strive to achieve.  The constant flow of ideas that stream from Yunus will be invaluable to change makers of the future.  We should just be cautious not to forget our own creativity & instead we should think of ways to challenge & improve the ideas Yunus writes of.

- Bryan

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