Business that aims to end poverty, unemployment and pollution

By JoAnn Flett

As printed in The Marketplace – May/June 2018

A World of Three Zeros: The New Economics of Zero Poverty, Zero Unemployment and Zero Net Carbon Emissions.
By Muhammad Yunus (Public Affairs, 2017, 304 pp., $28 US)


A World of Three Zeros adds to the literature promoting social business. A social business is “a non-dividend company dedicated to solving human problems,” says Yunus, winner of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, and author of several other titles on the topic.

In this book Yunus asks, “Why has the world left the challenge of solving social problems to governments and charities alone?” Yunus believes that through social business, the economic and social halves of society are reconnected.

The book argues for an overhaul of the economic framework and the capitalist system. “We need to redesign the economic framework of our society by moving from a system driven purely by personal interest [profit maximization] to a system in which both personal and collective interests are recognized, promoted, and celebrated,” Yunus says.

Yunus identifies the challenges society faces: rising inequality, extreme weather conditions, and increasing unemployment and job creation issues. “The existing capitalist engine is producing more damage than solutions,” he writes.

Solutions require a change to the economic system and a revision about assumptions of human nature. Yunus believes that people are not only selfish, but also selfless. The “Capitalist Man” is selfish, and drives our current economic system. However, the “Real Man” is very different from the “Capitalist Man” and makes money not just for selfish reasons but to benefit others.

Economic systems built upon selfishness create shortcomings in the free-market such as unemployment, pollution, and poverty. However, a redesigned economic framework creates new possibilities and contains three basic elements. First, the new system is based upon human values that promote collective interests. Second, all human beings are entrepreneurs and not merely job seekers. Third, the financial system should be redesigned to work effectively for the poor.

Yunus details how social business addresses the problems of poverty, unemployment and environmental decay. “We owe it to future generations to begin moving toward a world of three zeros: zero poverty, zero unemployment and zero net carbon emissions,” he argues.

In a critical observation about unjust wealth distribution, Yunus says, “If you wanted to describe the difference between ants and elephants, you would certainly not use the word inequality!” In a similar critique he writes, “Unemployment means throwing a fully capable person into the trash—a particularly cruel form of punishment.” He connects poverty and inequality to pollution among the poor, noting that, “…history shows that when destructive environmental policies are pursued, the poor suffer most.”

He observes three mega-powers transforming the world: youth, technology and good governance, which is displayed in care for human rights. Youth are well equipped to take action to create the world they want. Technology can bring new levels of success to transportation, manufacturing, agriculture, health care and information management. Good governance and ethical government leadership address corruption and build strong, stable, honest and efficient societies.

For Yunus, reformed economic systems uphold the multi-dimensional aspect of human beings. Multidimensional humans are creative and thus, entrepreneurial. As such, they should be thought of as job creators and not merely job seekers. He believes social business and universal human entrepreneurship can create a world with zero poverty, zero unemployment and zero net carbon emissions.

The social businesses profiled in the book are innovatively addressing social problems. Surprisingly, Yunus does not discuss the Benefit Corporation movement a global movement, in over 50 countries and 130 industries, whose single goal is “to use business as a force for good.” Benefit Corporations have rigorous, third- party standards for measurement of people, planet and profit. Benefit Corporations are also seeking to re-orient capitalism in order to achieve a more shared and durable prosperity.

JoAnn Flett directs the MBA in Social Impact at Eastern University, a Christian university near Philadelphia, PA.

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  • MEDA is an international economic development organization that creates business solutions to poverty. We work in agri-food market systems, focusing primarily on women and youth in rural communities in the Global South. Our success is measured by income, improved processes, increased knowledge, and the creation of decent work.

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