HEC Paris

Newsletter #23
March 2010


Muhammad Yunus and HEC Paris: partnering to promote social responsibility

(left) Muhammad Yunus
(middle) Martin Hirsch; Christine Rodwell, Executive Director, Reporters d'Espoir; Christine Kelly, journalist, writer and godmother of Jeunes Porteurs d'Espoirs; Pascale Lafitte-Certa, journalist; Muhammad Yunus; Frank Riboud and Frédéric Dalsace
(right) German film director, playwright, author, photographer and producer Wim Wenders

On February 4, 2010, 3,000 students and young entrepreneurs gathered at Paris’ Grand Rex for a dynamic youth forum on economic and social challenges, organized by the HEC Social Business Chair in collaboration with Danone Communities and Reporters d’Espoirs.

The event provided a unique opportunity for the next generation of business leaders to interact with Nobel Prize-winning economist Muhammad Yunus and High Commissioner for Active Solidarities Against Poverty and High Commissioner for Youth for the French government Martin Hirsch, as well as key business figures like Danone Chairman Franck Riboud.

Equally important, it was a chance to freely exchange ideas and perspectives on the limitations of current business models and strategies for reorienting the market toward socially responsible enterprises. Roundtable discussions kicked off with German filmmaker Wim Wenders’ video on Professor Yunus and a video montage presenting man-in-the-street answers to questions such as “Can we reconcile economic and social concerns?” Speakers also responded to audience members’ questions in real time via SMS and Twitter. The result was a truly interactive event that challenged and inspired tomorrow’s leaders.

Zeroing in on social business

The forum was the latest step in Professor Yunus’ growing partnership with HEC Paris. In 2008, he became co-president of HEC Paris’ Social Business / Enterprise and Poverty (SBEP) Chair, along with Martin Hirsch. Through curriculum changes, a comprehensive research program and a new Enterprise and Poverty Action Tank, the Chair aims to develop innovative business approaches that can help reduce poverty and exclusion around the world.

The Chair is firmly committed to developing concrete initiatives through the Action Tank, as Martin Hirsch noted in the French newspaper Liberation on February 4: “The first projects will be launched in the next few weeks. […] These large-scale initiatives, based on a different economic model, will benefit hundreds of thousands of people.”

Through the Chair and other social business initiatives, HEC Paris is contributing to efforts to rethink the global economy and effect meaningful change. “Our goal is to support the development of new business models that contribute to a more sustainable and socially responsible business environment,” says Bénédicte Faivre-Tavignot, Academic Director of HEC Paris' Sustainable Development Master’s Program and Executive Director of the SBEP Chair. “Companies’ level of involvement in social issues will ultimately depend on our ability to distinguish between true and false commitment.” Professor of Marketing and holder of the SBEP Chair Frédéric Dalsace reinforces the need to hold companies accountable for their social commitments, calling for the development of an “alter-marketing” approach that would emphasize concrete actions, rather than sound bites.

Raising a generation of socially responsible leaders

In 2006, Yunus and the Grameen Bank were awarded the Nobel Peace Price for their efforts to create economic and social development from the ground up by using microcredit to provide loans to disadvantaged people who lack financial security. Known also as the “father” of social business, he believes that HEC’s new Social Business Chair can be a potentially powerful tool for advancing his vision of a socially just and poverty-free world.

“Social business empowers and promotes entrepreneurship among disadvantaged populations in developing and developed countries. Indeed, developed countries also have an important role to play through social business and emerging technologies,” Yunus reasons. “The Social Business Chair provides an opportunity to share these ideas with the next generation and cultivate creative and compassionate business leaders for the future.”