RMIT students have met with Nobel Peace Prize winner Professor Muhammad Yunus during a study tour of Bangladesh, where they learned about the benefits of microfinance first-hand.
Yunus received the honour in 2006 along with the Grameen Bank, an institution he founded to provide microfinance for ventures that assisted with community development.
Professor Kosmas Smyrnios and Dr David Hodges from the School of Management took six undergraduates and one PhD student to Bangladesh as part of their International Business Design Project.
As part of the tour, the group attended the Social Business Youth Summit, where they met with the Nobel laureate.
Yunus has established Yunus Centres at universities across the world, aimed at examining issues related to social business, poverty alleviation and sustainability, and is hoping to establish one in Australia.
Smyrnios said the Nobel Peace Prize winner was impressed with the students.
“While RMIT was one of a number of Australian universities that attended the conference, we were the only one that took students,” he said.
After the conference, the students got to experience the economic powerhouse of social business in rapidly-developing nations through visits to a number of Grameen Bank-supported projects.
Hodges said social businesses like those supported by the bank were a way of increasing employment for the rural poor.
“Grameen Bank has been integral to establishing businesses with multinationals, that create strong communities and jobs,” he said.
Smyrnios said the aim of the projects was to create zero poverty, debt and emissions.
“One project involves women selling milk from the cows they’ve bought with microfinance loans from Grameen to the international company Danone, to create fortified yoghurt.
“It uses family businesses or microbusinesses, who may only have one cow.
“The end product targets malnutrition in young children and provides business opportunities for women, 90 per cent of whom run these family businesses.
“They make a small profit that allows them to buy more cows and build up their business. Danone pays higher price for the product.
“It has also helped improve cattle breeding stock to improve milk production.”
Students also travelled to other areas of the country to see a number of Grameen projects in action.
Smyrnios said RMIT planned to offer a new subject with a strong social and economic focus, following on from the trip.
“This was not your typical study tour – students got to see how the motivation of charity, with the discipline of business, can work in rapidly developing economies,” he said.
“From a student point of view, it is throwing them in at the deep end, but it was an experience they will never forget and one that could shape their business careers.”
The Grameen Bank model has also been used in the United States.
Peter Hunt, chair of Grameen Australia, will visit the RMIT City campus to talk to students about microfinance on Tuesday 29 September.