This Thursday, Sept. 27, the UNC General Administration sponsored the UNC Social Business Conference to elevate cause-driven businesses that achieve social goals. 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner and the “Father of Microcredit” Professor Muhammad Yunus served as the keynote speaker.
Hosted at NC A&T, the conference brought together economic development interests from all regions of the state. The attendees gathered to explore Professor Yunus’s concept of combining business know-how with the desire to make the world a better place.
Yunus, known worldwide as the founder of the microcredit concept, challenged those listening to reconsider present frameworks that leave large portions of society in need and underutilized. With creative thinking and hard work, he told the audience, capitalism can create a world without poverty. “You have the power. You must make use of it. And that’s the challenge.”
In addition to presentations from NC Secretary of Commerce Keith Crisco and UNC President Tom Ross, the conference featured a social business competition between 31 student-led teams from the 17 UNC system campuses. Each team developed business plans to address pressing local social issues. Ideas ranged from a Fresh Starts Green Grocery that hires former prisoners struggling to find employment to a financial literacy service for low-income residents aiming to break the cycle of poverty.
Five-minute presentations before select judges narrowed the contest to eight finalist teams, who then presented again to the entire conference. Among the finalists was a UNCG team comprised of students Andres (Jamie) Bueno, Miguel Cervera Castaldi, and Franziska Metz. Their Artifactsproposal addresses underemployment issues connected to homelessness. The plan targets homeless clients with artistic talent and provides them with mentoring, venture development support, and new streams of income through a worker-owned artist collaborative.
The second UNCG team, comprised of Emily (Maggie) Taylor, Rachael Wonderlin, and Staton Noel, also made a strong showing with their Fisher Park Lifestyle Village Proposal. The idea revolves around Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities or “village models” that empower older adults to remain in their own homes and communities as they age by providing services either through fees, donations, or volunteers. The UNCG team developed a sustainable model that eliminates the need for external funding by expanding the village concept to include not just older adults but also young working families and middle aged couples. The expanded village concept incorporates a sustainable business to serve the needs of the community – with business profits funding services for community members in need.
“If you can solve the problem of five people or three people… you have discovered how to solve the problem of 3 billion people,” Professor Yunus asserted in praising the student contestants. “Human creativity is just limitless… you are born in a time when the distance between possible and impossible is shrinking. Everyday it’s getting closer and closer.”
“Imagine a world that you would love to see. And once you imagine, it will happen. Because you will take us there.”