Nobel Peace laureate Muhammad Yunus believes that it is possible to create a world of three zeros — zero poverty, zero unemployment and zero net carbon emissions.

In a conversation with BusinessLine, the father of micro-credit, social business and founder of Grameen Bank, said, “we are lucky that these problems of poverty, unemployment and environmental destruction are man-made failures of our economic system. This means, the problems can also be corrected by man, by replacing the economic system with a new system that fosters social business with zero profit motive and entrepreneurship, which will help us create a new world of three zeros.” Excerpts from the conversation:

Do you think India can achieve zero poverty?

Poverty is not a created by poor people, it is created by the economic system. Poverty cannot be eradicated by putting money (charity) into the hands of people, because it requires an endless inflow of money. That’s why we created micro-credit institutions for the poor to start social businesses that generate revenue and become self-sustaining, where surplus money is ploughed back into the business.

India is headed in the right direction by giving out licences for 10 small finance banks, but tens of thousands of small finance banks are required and there is lots more to be done. India should come up with legislation to create micro-finance banks as a social business to fill up the gaps left by the conventional banks, that only cater to the rich.

Everyone must have access to financing. Finance is economic oxygen for people, which will make them alive, active and creative enough to take care of themselves. Bring in technologies that can serve the poor, like preventive healthcare technology, and stop focusing on technologies like AI (artificial intelligence) and Autonomous Vehicles that are designed to make big money for rich people.

In your estimate, if legislation to create micro-finance institutions is implemented, how long will it take for India to get to zero poverty?

Just to illustrate, in the case of Bangladesh, when we became Independent in 1971 with India’s support, more than 75 per cent of our people were below the poverty line. Today it is 23 per cent. Initially it was slow progress but now it is moving very fast.

We achieved the Millennium Development Goals to reduce poverty by half by 2015 two years in advance, in 2013 itself. At the same projection, we can achieve zero poverty level for 170 million of our people before 2030, which is the goal set by the United Nations. So, India could get to zero poverty levels in a very short time, much before 2030, provided people get involved in it.

What made you give up a cushy job in the US in the early 1970s to get back to Bangladesh, at a time when most aspired to go there?

I was living a good life after my Ph.D in Economics from the Vanderbilt University as a young Assistant Professor in a University, but I had always planned to get back as I felt the US was an artificial country for me, I have nothing to do there. I thank my good stars that I was lucky to be born in Bangladesh because there are so many problems that need to be solved here.

I blamed myself for learning Economics, it was a useless subject because it did not help me solve any of my people’s problems. Disowning Economics has helped me tremendously. We are so sold on certain theories that we become artificial human beings. Real human beings are a beautiful amalgam of selfishness and selflessness. But our system has made human beings selfish and greedy people.

Worldover, many are inspired by your work, who inspires you?

The amazing illiterate women that I meet inspire me tremendously. These women who have never been to school, never left their village, who look very docile but have unshakeable belief in themselves, fight against all odds to look after their families, despite being at the receiving end of all wrong things from their own kids and husband, who harbour no ill intentions towards their families, no matter how much they are pushed — these women inspire me tremendously.

The dramatic change that happened in Bangladesh is because we approached these women and gave them micro-credit, which brought about this transformation. Nearly 100 per cent of our 9 million borrowers from Grameen Bank and other institutions are women.