What I Learned from Muhammad Yunus

Micro-financing and marketing can create a social enterprise hybrid marketing agency

Conversation with Dr Muhammad Yunus (A two part article – Part 1)

It was a cold December morning in New York City. I was at the JFK Airport en route to Dubai to be with my family in time for Christmas. I checked-in three hours before my flight, so I had time to go to the lounge to rest and read the book I hand-picked to accompany me throughout the journey. After 15 minutes, a man with a suit case sat down beside my chair and greeted me ‘good morning’.

There he was, the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Prof. Muhammad Yunus, in front of me flashing a big smile. At first, I thought I was just reeling from the fatigue of attending a late-night awards ceremony the night before. Cliché as it may sound, but I closed my eyes and opened them again, just to make sure I was not dreaming or hallucinating. Realizing everything was really happening, I was not able to return the greeting and instead yelled, “You are Muhammad Yunus!” He laughed and said, “Shh…. Yes I am.”

He sat down beside me and we started to converse about New York, business, life and philosophy.


Prof. Yunus always travels to New York to give talks to large audiences. He is very fond of arts and of good food, but he prefers the ones sold on the streets.


He shared with me how micro-financing created a business model to help what he calls the Base of the Pyramid (BoP).

It was a blue ocean opportunity for Prof. Yunus, who started his business with mere USD 27 to finance grass root communities in Bangladesh, and which later on become a USD 4 billion micro-financing empire. He told me how studying big banks and doing the opposite of what they do helped his business. “The banks are pursuing rich people, I am targeting the poor people. Banks are going to men, I go to the women. Their location are in the city centers, mine is in the poor rural areas. They have so many lawyers, I have an army of volunteers. They are dealing with large money transaction, I am doing small money. I did the complete opposite of what conventional banks do and it was a successful business model.”

As a marketing person listening to Prof. Yunus, I was able to understand that he was teaching me the 4Ps of marketing, but in the context of a blue ocean strategy.


“Be creative and bold!” he told me.

With the rise of technological creativity, Prof. Yunus said that being a “digital genie” is now possible. “I am an entrepreneur in mind and compassionate at heart. I am working on creating an app, in collaboration with Intel, which can evaluate the health of the women during pregnancy. This will help people in remote areas without access to hospitals.”

We also talked about my life, my passion in marketing and my aspirations to spread the CSR paradigm in the Middle East. Giving me a piece of his mind, he said, “Your place now has abundant resources. Use those resources and create a meaningful life and business. Life is a great challenge and is full of surprises. You have to be creative and bold.” He also said that fusing personal mission and business is not at all impossible, “For the next 365 days, why not create both instead of one, and combine business marketing and giving back to people.”

As a marketing person, I was inspired by his struggles and passion to succeed. He told me how rejections, criticisms and detractions did not deter him from creating a bank for the poor. I learned that if a person is determined, passionate and resilient about achieving a meaningful life, he will definitely succeed. Prof. Yunus sounded a caveat that the first few days, months or years of any social enterprise or CSR-driven businesses will be an uphill battle, but if one is steadfast in his mission to create a “social impact” and make things right, he is going to reap the fruits of his labor for the rest of his life and for generations to come.

After 18 hours of flight from New York City to Dubai, we said goodbye, exchanged business cards and shook hands. We parted ways with exhaustion but with a smile.


As soon as I landed in Dubai, I talked to my wife about my wonderful experience.

For six months, my wife and I discussed profound topics about social enterprise, social impact, innovation, business incubation, social good, advertising and strategic marketing. All were thought-provoking philosophical discussions about economics, pragmatism and altruism. On the seventh month, we figured out a way in which we can bring together the Philosophy of Good, a profitable business, and marketing. We coined a hybrid model, where there is a bit of Profit-Purpose alignment and Profit-Purpose tension. My wife gets the profit, and I volunteer to share the profit. Yes, we are doing it the other way around, just like Prof. Yunus did. She makes the profit and I pay the profit forward to less privileged children.

Almost a year after talking to Prof. Yunus, Lincoln Martin Strategic Marketing was conceived, inspired by the Marketing 3.0 model by Philip Kotler, Micro-financing by Prof. Yunus and the “buy-one, give-one” model of various start-up companies.

– End of Part 1 –

In part two, we will discuss “The Truth About Social Entrepreneurship Movement” from a strategic marketing perspective. Tackling the differences between social enterprise, social entrepreneurship, social business, hybrid models and corporate social responsibility.

Lincoln Martin offers the most unique strategic marketing solutions, from traditional advertising to digital media and complex marketing strategies. To learn more about our strategic marketing solutions, email ­­­­ Ems @ lincolnmartin.com.

Categories:   CSR, Social Entrepreneurship