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Excerpt From 'Building Social Business'

At this point, you may be starting to wonder, “What does the social business concept mean for me personally.” I hope you are—because one purpose of this book is to help people see that social business can be a wonderful way of enriching our own life experiences.

The motivation for starting or joining a social business is simple. It begins with the idealism and hope that are deeply ingrained in all human beings.

If you have ever found yourself thinking, “I don’t like the way things are around me; it’s painful to live in a world where hunger, poverty, disease, illiteracy, and unemployment afflict so many people; I want to see these terrible things disappear,” then social business may be part of your life’s calling.

Social business also provides an outlet for the creativity that millions of people harbor within themselves. “Creativity” doesn’t have to mean something grand. It can be as simple as noticing a local problem and thinking, “I wonder whether anyone has ever tried to solve the problem by doing this”—and then trying it. A small local solution can become the seed of a global solution.

But even creativity on this modest scale is not a prerequisite. If you cannot develop a seed, you can pick up an existing seed and plant it in a new location. Social business offers many options. I like that.

Social business also offers an opportunity for individual renewal. Millions of people in every walk of life dream about change, but somehow never manage to experience it. Many of us feel trapped in “secure” lives that never leave the treadmill of routine work and unthinking consumption. At the same time, we wish we could escape into a different way of life where we can leave our signatures on this planet and discover the endless talents buried within us. Social business is a new way of framing our existence that offers the opportunity to redesign our lives even as we improve the planet we inhabit.

Social business, I’ve found, is a great learning process. Take the plunge and you quickly discover you are acting and thinking in ways you never did before. New challenges arise that force you to exercise intellectual and emotional muscles that have long gone unused. Past experiences that you’d almost forgotten suddenly become relevant and useful. You are exploring a new world that was totally unknown to you. Thanks to the “social business glasses” you now wear, you see things you never saw before. Slowly you move toward becoming a multidimensional person, rather than a robotic being driven solely by profit.

Social business is exciting and fun. For many people, the chief obstacle to making the commitment to social business is attitudinal. It’s easy to lapse back into apathy, pessimism, and despair.

Many people argue that there is no point in trying to change the world, whether through social business or any other means—that the world has always been the same, and that there is no way to change human nature.

This is simply false. Today’s world is not the same as the world in which our ancestors lived. We don’t have plagues. We don’t have slavery. We don’t have monarchy. We don’t have apartheid. We have women voting, free markets flourishing in once-closed societies, people around the world demanding human rights—even a black president in the United States. Change does happen, and that change is shaped by us.

As for human nature, my belief is that it is fundamentally good. That is why religion, good governance, social values, arts, culture, and charity have flourished throughout history, even in the face of tyranny and selfishness. The sprouts of justice and mercy are always struggling to grow through the cracks. If we nurture and nourish them, we can make this planet into the garden all humans dream of inhabiting.

Building Social Business: The New Kind of Capitalism That Serves Humanity’s Most Pressing Needs, by Muhammad Yunus. Excerpted by arrangement with PublicAffairs, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2010. Read an interview with Muhammad Yunus.