If you want to drive real social impact, consider asking for your money back

Rupal Kantaria, Director, GMSP Foundation

“Charity is only the starting point”

While many who give feel asking for it back taints their gift – emotionally, and also practically given the tax uncertainties around social investment, if we really want to have long term impact, we should think about asking for the money back. I was reminded of this when I had the privilege recently to sit with Professor Muhammad Yunus, social entrepreneur and Nobel laureate.


It was many decades ago when Professor Yunus passionately dismissed charity as a worthy solution to poverty. Instead, he created financially sustainable businesses via small loans to local women to start their own businesses and to protect them from loan sharks. When he ran out of money, he acted as a personal guarantor for the businesses, eventually founding and scaling Grameen bank which now serves half of Bangladesh’s population and whose model has travelled internationally even to the US. Scalability – a hotly debated challenge – yet Professor Yunus made it sound so simple. He held the small table captivated as he told his story, humbly but fervently– ahead of his time yet with an-age old wisdom.

Indeed, it is only much more recently that we have really seen this shift from charity to social enterprise in the UK. “So why the rise in social enterprise?” someone asked. Has traditional capitalism failed us – what does the system need to change? Yunus’ response: two fundamental misassumptions which pervade society today.

First: Personal vs collective interest – what drives us really?

As an economist I am all too familiar with the mainstream assumption that people are driven by self-interest. Capitalism tells us that this self-interest is in the form of profit, at an entity level. Indeed this is true of many businesses. But the explosion of social business against a backdrop of failing capitalism shows us that this ‘self-interest’ can and does include, not just the fulfilment of material wants, but a broader concept of drivers of happiness, such as the wellbeing of others.

“Making money is happiness, Making others happy is ‘superhappiness’” – Professor Yunus

Professor Yunus argued that human beings are defined in a very narrow way today – and this is supported by the education system. Life should be in two phases shifting roughly at age 50, but for some, like Saskia Bruysten, founder of Yunus Social Business and indeed for myself, it has been earlier.

Phase 1, 0-50.yrs…: focused on oneself, developing business, power, skills

Phase 2: 50+ : focused on others. This is your ‘real’ life.

Second: Job seeker or job creator – who are we?

Society pushes us towards getting a job. In a family of entrepreneurs, I’ve always been the “odd one out” – more comfortable working for someone else – having a job. But Yunus argued that a job limits your creativity, making you conform when in fact, we are creative, limitless, entrepreneurial at heart. We are all job creators.

Certainly these two themes resonate with my own personal journey and that which I have observed in my father, a great entrepreneur and business man, who is driven by the desire only to give, give and give.

Until a few years ago, I felt my contribution to society was best through working hard and giving money to those who knew what they were doing and enjoyed working in the charitable sector. However, today I am inspired to use my skills to drive social change, and indeed to experience the joy in engaging. Instead of advising others on their businesses, I want to create my own impact. The words, and indeed life legacy of Professor Yunus describes this best, “Instead of writing a book about it – just go and do it.”