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Microlending pioneer Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank and winner of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, told HBS students in April that “all human beings are entrepreneurs, even the poorest of the poor,” as he discovered after helping beggars in Bangladesh transform themselves into successful door-to-door salesmen.

Yunus described several sustainable “social businesses” (all profits to the enterprise) he has launched in Bangladesh. They include Grameenphone, which put cell phones into the hands of millions of poor, rural women, and a venture that brought solar-powered electricity to more than 1 million homes. He has also arranged partnerships with multinationals to combat illness. For example, he persuaded Adidas to build a shoe that conformed to the company’s quality standards but still would cost only one euro. Proper footwear is extremely important in the developing world, where diseases gain entry to the body through bare feet. To combat malnutrition, Yunus worked with Groupe Danone to manufacture a low-cost, fortified yogurt that is sold door-to-door. Ventures such as these, whose only goal is to solve social problems, represent the highest use of business, said Yunus, who noted that “chasing money is not our life’s mission.”

During his visit, Yunus also breakfasted with Social Enterprise faculty and staff, met at the Harvard Innovation Lab with HBS and Harvard College students interested in social ventures, and spent a morning at the Harvard School of Public Health.

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