Nobel Laureate: Empowering Women Through Entrepreneurship

Wednesday, 07 March 2012 17:02
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By Shahfizal Musa
Pix Shahiddan Saidi

BANGI, 7 Mac 2012 - A new economy, aided by technology, is taking shape that enables people to create jobs instead of looking for one.

This is the view expressed by the National University of Malaysia (UKM) Laureate in Residence, Professor Muhammad Yunus at a talk given to a group of women entrepreneurs of small businesses in the campus here recently. It was organised by the Centre of Women Leadership to help women realise their true potential.

He believes that everyone including the poor can be part of the new economy as with proper guidance they too can be successful entrepreneurs.

The founder of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh likened the poor to bonsai trees saying that there is nothing wrong with the plant but because the tree is planted in a pot, it can only grow to a very limited height.

Similarly society never gave the poor the base to grow bigger. There is nothing wrong with poor people, it is not their fault that society never gave them the chance to realise their true potential.

Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research and Innovation Affars)  Prof Dato’ Dr Rahmah Mohamed; Director of the Centre for Women’s Leadership, Assoc Prof Dr Madeline Berma; women entrepreneurs, lecturers and students attended the talk.

In an interview with UKM News Portal later he said sincerity is of the upmost importance even before trying to help the poor as their mind set needed to be changed first. And usually there are several layers of fears and assumptions that is stopping them from becoming successful. Each one of the layers needed to be peeled off.

His experience with the Grameen Bank which he founded for the poor including beggars showed the poor can succeed if given the chance and opportunity.

He said when he first started the Grameen Bank, it helped the poor to borrow money and create their own income generating vehicles. It was a success with virtually everyone paying back their loans.

His efforts in helping the poor help themselves through the bank earned him a Nobel prize in 2006. He said it took him quite a while to convince the poor especially the women, that they can generate their own income.

“At first no one wanted to take money from the bank to start an income generating project, because they lacked confidence in themselves. So patience is required”.

Technology gives freedom

Today, he said, technology has made it possible for man and women to be happy. “They can take care of their families without having to be stuck in the office from 9 to 5. They will have the freedom to be with their families and generate their own income without having to depend on a job”.

He said with the help of technology an accountant can become an expert that offers his services not just to his town but the whole world.

Technology has come to a level that we can reach out to the world and not be limited to our towns and villages.

Prof Muhammad Yunus believes that everybody can be a successful entrepreneur if they are given guidance. This holds true even for the poor.

Empowering Women

He also urged women to take part of the new economy as their involvement would benefit their families more.

One major difference he noticed arising from his experience at the Grameen Bank was that if the income was generated by the women most of it will go to the family including their children’s needs.

But if the borrower was a man, the money generated would first be spent on himself before reaching the family.

In other words lending money to a woman will give more social benefits than lending money to a man, he said.

There is thus the need to empower women with income generating opportunities because their earnings will benefit the whole family.

“But when you try to empower women you will definitely step on a few toes. Usually these are men who are comfortable only with the status quo of women being subservient”.

Prof Muhammad Yunus found it odd that several women rights groups at first also opposed his idea of lending money to women to enable them to start their own income generating projects.

Challenges in empowering women

Empowering women to generate their own income might be seen as a threat. Despite the rhetoric of women empowerment, some people do not want to see women do better than them.

No man would like to be told that his wife is wearing the pants in his house, he said.

Prof Muhammad Yunus also dispelled the fears of some men about women earning more than them. He said in many cases the relationship between husbands and wives have improved when the wife can contribute to the family financially.

So earnings by the wife basically strengthen the family institution not threaten it, he said.


Giving Tradition a new leash of life

He said tradition was another stumbling block in empowering women. Most traditions originate out of necessity. Harsh and hazardous environment, may have required women to sit and take care of their young ones in caves. While the man go out and hunt for food.

But as the environment is tamed by technology the man’s role has also to change.

Tradition, he said, is a living thing, it is not a set of rules that is carved in stone. It should evolve with time.

“If empowering women can lead to thousands of families climbing out of poverty, then it is natural that it should be made the new tradition”.

Another subject used to hinder efforts to empower women financially is religion. It is not religion per se that prevents women from being financially capable. But it’s the fear of men losing their status quo of being the dominant one in a family.

He said it is not religion that hampers efforts to help women realise their potential. It is the interpretation of religion from a certain view point.

Islam, he said, gave women the right to own property and inheritance. While before Islam they were not so entitled.

Empowering them, he said, was not about giving women the upper hand over man.  It is about using entrepreneurship and capitalism to solve society’s most pressing problem.


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