Nobel Peace Prize winner Professor Muhammad Yunus has traveled the world helping people start businesses that solve social problems.

“Problems are common – there’s unemployment, poverty, old age, single mothers, welfare, healthcare. There’s a common thread,” Yunus said.

Those common problems can all be combatted through the creation and maintenance of social businesses. Social businesses are cause-driven businesses that are created to solve social issues such as poverty, etc. The social business model, as designed by Yunus, is designed for the investor/owner to gradually recoup the money invested but not reap a profit.

“This is a business created to fill a need not make money. Some people don’t understand that,” Yunus said during his speech

Thursday, he was the keynote speaker for the University of North Carolina Social Business Conference in the Alumni-Foundation Event Center at North Carolina A&T State University. The conference, sponsored by The Norman Macrae Foundation, TiE Carolinas, SBTDC and the UNC General Administration featured a panel discussion, Yunus’ speech and a team social business plan competition. Teams from all 17 UNC System schools competed.

“Today, our state faces huge challenges. The students have been audacious enough to take on these challenges and help us think through solutions for tomorrow,” UNC president Tom Ross said.

During his speech, Yunus shared with the audience how he has started or helped start more than 50 social businesses. His first was through creating microcredit by loaning poor people small amounts of money.

“It began in a tiny village near the university where I was teaching,” Yunus said.

During a famine, Yunus walked the village trying to make himself useful to the people and got his idea to loan small amounts of money so the people wouldn’t have to borrow from loan sharks.

“I had a list of 42 names and the total amount borrowed was $27,” he said. “If you can make so many people happy with so little money, why not do more of it?”

Yunus did do more and got the idea to connect the people with a bank. His first request was denied as he was told, “poor people aren’t credit worthy.” He was not deterred. He kept asking the bank and his request was eventually granted.

Now 36 years later, Yunus’ idea to loan people small amounts of money has grown to create Village Bank. The list of 42 lenders has grown to 8.5 million borrowers in India and the $27 in loans has grown to $1.5 billion in loans with 97 percent of the borrowers being women.

With $27, Yunus’ vision of microcredit has grown to become a global phenomenon and has sprouted dozens of social businesses to combat social problems.

“Every time I see a problem, the way my mind works, I try to create a business to solve it,” he said.

Dr. Kevin James is the chairman of the department of accounting and finance in the School of Business and Economics at A&T. He served as an advisor for one of A&T’s two teams that competed at the conference. This idea for business is needed but not often taught in business schools, he said.

“We’re in a time when the social challenges are great and we need our brightest youths thinking about how to address these problems in an effective way,” James said.

“We teach them about business but teaching them to do social good gets lost”, Yunus agrees.

“All we do in our lifetime is make money. It’s our habit – our pleasure. Sometimes, it’s our obsession and addiction,” Yunus said.

“Yes, we love money but that is the selfish part of us. There is always a selfless part and it’s never explored in the business world.”

Yunus has spent the last 36 years combining business and selflessness and it has earned him the Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Eisenhower Medal for Leadership and Service, other awards and “super” happiness.

“Every time this question of retirement comes, I always think, ‘What is retirement? Why would people retire?’ It’s probably because they are tired. That never happened for me,” Yunus said.

“I never get tired of doing what I love. Looking back, it seems I was in permanent retirement because I am doing what I love.”