End the money addiction, HK told

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2012, 11:30pm

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Hong Kong needs to end its obsession with making money if it is to get to grips with poverty, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and microcredit pioneer Muhammad Yunus says.

'[The world's] system is geared to making money and a person's whole life becomes money oriented,' said Yunus, nicknamed 'the banker for the poor', in an interview with the Sunday Morning Post yesterday. 'Slowly, money becomes an obsession, and then an addiction.'

'Social business - aimed at solving social problems - takes a change in paradigm... to think the right way,' said Yunus, adding that profit-making should not be the only goal of businesses.

Such thinking goes against today's 'make as much as possible with as little as possible' philosophy, but the 71-year-old banker and professor, in town for a forum at the Asia World Expo, believes a shift in attitude is necessary if Hong Kong - with one of the widest wealth gaps in the developed world - is serious about alleviating poverty and levelling the playing field for the disadvantaged.

On Hong Kong's housing problems, which see thousands of people crammed into tiny cubicles and cage homes, Yunus said: 'Housing is built for making money - profit making is the goal. We need to change the way we think [if we want to solve the problems in the long term].'

Yunus championed examples of microfinancing and microcredit - small loans without collateral given to the poor to start their own businesses - in his native country of Bangladesh, as a way to solve the problems of poverty.

Yunus and Grameen Bank, which he founded, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for their efforts after providing loans to eight million people. Yunus was forced to step down as managing director of Grameen Bank last year, but continues his anti-poverty work with the Yunus Centre and the Grameen Fund, which set up microcredit operations in New York.

Six months ago, Grameen China was launched.

'Every person has a selfish but also a selfless side. It's important to bring out the selflessness in people,' said Yunus, who is a believer in people's capacity to do good.

However, Yunus admitted that the microcredit model has its shortcomings, and that it has been misused to make fast profits and oversold as the ultimate answer to world poverty.

'Microcredit is only one piece [in solving poverty],' said Yunus. 'Education is just as important; providing affordable housing is also important; giving people a platform to develop their ideas is very important.'

Instead of teaching the next generation to study hard and find a good job then make a good living, Yunus said society should encourage young people to be creative, to care more for society and to take responsibility for the wellbeing of fellow human beings.

There is no immediate or one-size-fits-all solution to poverty, Yunus said. The only way is to inspire people to make a difference.