Innovation in the Microfinance World: Using Our Education as a Tool.

by Nyah Estrada

Innovation in the Microfinance World: Using Our Education as a Tool.

Muhammad Yunus, our favourite father of social business, recently visited Australia as part of his world tour on the very topic. You may have seen Yunus’ appearance on the ABC’s Q&A or have been lucky enough to hear him speak at the Australian Social Business Forum.

There was another event featuring Yunus in Melbourne though, with La Trobe University hosting Yunus at their campus in Bundoora on the 7th of April.  Although operational since 2014, Yunus’ visit marked the official opening of La Trobe’s Yunus Social Business Centre, with Vice-Chancellor Profession John Dewar further celebrating Yunus’ contribution to social business, presenting him with an Honorary Doctorate.

As for some of our SEED team, five of us were fortunate enough to attend this event and were given an opportunity to meet the man himself when the formalities concluded. Check out the picture on our Facebook page – we were very excited.

As a student of Monash University’s Master of International Development Practice, we are taught to constantly reflect upon and place ourselves within the development world. This requires us to ask ourselves critical questions on how we think we can contribute to the development sector and what area of development we are most interested in pursuing.

At La Trobe, Professor Yunus talked about both the merits of education and its shortcomings. Education carries enormous weight and its influence spans a wide reach providing us with opportunities and tools to go further in our lives. Professor Yunus talked about the fact that he still believes in education and academia. At times we are taught to be innovative, however our ideas are often confined to the constraints and standards within the curriculum. His ideas were so innovative that they were new and one of a kind. I understood and related to what he meant. In my personal experience in the higher education system, some of my ideas have not been given as much merit because there was not enough theory to support them. However, the opportunity that education gives us provides platforms through which we can make a difference.

Professor Yunus’ microcredit and social business models were innovations that began as grassroots initiatives. Over the years we have seen a body of scholarly literature grow about microcredit and the social business. Therefore, the fact that his idea has prevailed and has been proliferated not just in the academic world but in general society shows that education is an invaluable tool in enabling change. As a university student wanting to pursue a career in this field, hearing Yunus speak was very inspiring. Having worked with a social business called Pollinate Energy in India, my brief experience with a social business has shown me how innovative this model can be and how successfully it can work on the ground. The social business is a ground-breaking idea that has taken off in Australia, and we can certainly see this with the many social businesses that have opened here in Melbourne.

As a student, I feel as though I want to be contributing more to society and actively making an impact rather than continuing in my studies. Sometimes, this makes me less motivated to continue writing assignments and going to lectures. However, Professor Yunus’ talk inspired me to be motivated in my education because of the impact and merit it has in society. Education is not the only way to make change, but it is certainly a great way to do so. As university students, Professor Yunus encourages us to keep being innovative and to continue making decisions and getting involved in initiatives that benefit wider society.