Professor Yunus’ challenge to New Zealand


In April, 2017, Kiwibank was thrilled and a little bit star-struck to be able to host Nobel Laureate Professor Muhummad Yunus’ only public lecture in Auckland.  Professor Yunus is a real inspiration for us at Kiwibank for a number of reasons.  

Professor Yunus has always challenged the traditional way of doing business.  When he first started Grameen Bank in Bangladesh in 1976, he purposefully did the opposite to what every other business was doing.  Established banks in Bangladesh wanted to attract wealthy (and typically male) customers, so Yunus offered products to rural women with not much education and no business experience.  What they did have was passion, intelligence and a drive to create a better future for themselves and their families.  And it worked. Grameen has a repayment rate on its loans of 99%, with a current loan book of $1.5billion and 9 million borrowers.   

”If you are following the same road, it will always take you to the same destination. If you want to go someplace else, you have to build new roads. People from the old roads will be against you, so you have to defy them”. 

Professor Yunus’ words at the lecture was a great reminder that we need to continue creating new paths to walk along, that it might be difficult but ultimately it’ll take us somewhere great.

Kiwibank has been working with Nga Tangata Microfinance Trust and Aviva since 2012 to provide microfinance loans to New Zealanders, in order to either provide them with debt relief or purchase essential items.  New Zealand’s socio-economic challenges are different to Bangladesh, but we have similar problems with some of our most vulnerable in society lacking access to credit, which can mean that it’s really hard for them to get ahead.  What we’re supporting with our microfinance partnerships are no interest loans to these people to get over that hurdle, but also experience the sense of achievement and increased self-worth when they actually finish repayments for this sort of loan.  

Professor Yunus concluded by speaking to the need for a different operating model for business, one that makes money to solve social problems.  He himself has set up over 100 social businesses.  This really spoke to us as we are all about supporting awesome Kiwi businesses that are delivering economic growth for New Zealand at the same time as solving environmental problems.  We support these businesses through the Akina Foundation and our work to mentor social enterprises.  At the event we heard from Lisa King of Eat My Lunch, Nathalie Whittaker, founder of Give a Little and Nick Winstone, Partner at Aera VC, who all talked about the challenge but ultimately benefits that they’d experienced from setting up businesses that exist to solve social problems.  These Kiwi success stories have all demonstrated that their businesses are more robust, and attract customers and staff more easily due to a clearly stated mission to solve social problems.  Nick Winstone reiterated the fact that investors and consumers have evolved and it’s no longer a trade-off between doing good and making money. 

The event was a highly inspirational evening and a once in a lifetime opportunity to hear from the man that delivered Nelson Mandela’s 89th birthday speech.  He still holds the same passion and defiance that he used in the 70s to change the course of poverty in his country and we are really looking forward to using what we learned on the night to continue to build our own road to challenge the banking sector in New Zealand. 

Interested in discovering some amazing New Zealanders? Check out our Go Kiwi section.