Saturday, January 20 , 2018, 8:18 pm | Fair 54º


With Tinge of Skepticism, Westmont Students Salute Muhammad Yunus’ Message of Optimism

(Brad Elliott / Westmont College photo)

Westmont College students got the opportunity to hear directly from microfinance pioneer Muhammad Yunus, who paid a visit to Murchison Gymnasium for a Friday convocation after speaking at the Westmont President’s Breakfast earlier that morning.

Four panelists were selected from the student body to pose questions to Yunus about his Nobel Prize-winning work in microfinance, a method of lending small amounts of money to bring individuals and their families out of poverty.

Cynthia Toms Smedley, Westmont’s recently appointed director of global education, served as the panel’s moderator.

The panelists included fourth-year political science major Kristabel Stark, fourth-year economics and business major James Sievers, fourth-year English major Andy Wood and second-year biology and business major Kha-ai Nguyen.

Before the event began, the four panelists had the opportunity to meet Yunus.

“He was very genial and very friendly,” Wood said. “He was very gracious to us as students,” Stark added.

Sievers said he enjoyed Yunus’ “humble demeanor.” When awarded the Westmont leadership award at the Westmont President’s Breakfast, he noted, Yunus had removed the medal from around his neck and returned it to the presenters before beginning his talk to the more than 700 guests.

Yunus advocated his idea of social business, which he described as “a nondividend company” that will reinvest the money it earns and “continue to do the job.” He observed that, often with philanthropy, “the money doesn’t come back” but “social business money has endless life.”

At both the breakfast and convocation, Yunus emphasized his optimism for the potential of the younger generation.

When asked by Stark about the role Yunus hopes to see young students play in the microfinance efforts of the future, he stated his belief that “the young generation of today (is the most powerful) in the history of mankind” because of the instant communication and access to information it has been given by modern technology.

“The world will be very different in your hands,” he told the students.

When asked by Wood what his goals for the coming decade were, he replied: “To get into your mind.”

Several of the student panelists were hesitant to embrace Yunus’ sweepingly optimistic vision about the eradication of world poverty.

Sievers said that although he appreciated his “optimism and idealism,” he believed that the details of implementing microfinance on a large scale would be “messier” than Yunus made it seem.

Sievers expressed the need to adapt Yunus’ broad framework for microfinance to “cultural particulars,” which he hopes to put in practice when he travels with professor Rick Ifland’s “Business at the Bottom of the Pyramid” class to Haiti next week.

Nguyen also expressed worries about the possibility of applying Yunus’ ideas. Although she said she “wasn’t satisfied with what he said about applying principles of microfinance to urban America,” she also expressed great admiration for Yunus’ idealism.

“His idealism has gotten him really far ...,” she said. “Being idealistic is not a bad thing.”

Although Wood was also initially skeptical, he reported experiencing a shift during the convocation.

“My whole outlook went from being a skeptic to being an enthusiast,” he sad, explaining he was influenced by the fact that Yunus “genuinely believes man can be selfless.”

“I’m encouraging everybody to write social fictions,” Yunus advised after explaining how he believes it is necessary for individuals to imagine creative solutions to social problems, then make them happen.

“Don’t take anything as impossible,” he urged the audience, noting that, through imagination and innovation, he believes the next generation will “make the list of impossible shorter and shorter.”

Noozhawk intern Megan Monroe can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click here to get started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >