May2720091:05 am

The key to winning a Nobel prize is to have no idea what you’re doing

Muhammad Yunus is a charming man. As the keynote speaker at the NAFSA opening plenary today, the Nobel Peace laureate admitted that “the one reason I could create Grameen Bank is because I knew nothing about banking…I could do things others couldn’t even think of.” When those who were working with him mentioned that what he had tasked of them they had no previous experience with, Yunus brushed away their concerns: “If you know it, you can’t do it.” Like I said, charming.

If I’m permitted to stretch just a touch, these remarks remind me of something I feel very strongly about when it comes to determining the future course of your career: go with your gut. You can’t possibly plan it all out, so why even try? Instead, pursue those things to which you are intractably drawn, and then see where it all leads you.

One other tidbit from Yunus’ talk, for recording now and for reflection later: in describing the model for Grameen Bank, Yunus drew a distinction between “charity dollar” and “social business dollar.” The charity dollar, he said, is one that goes and never comes back. The social business dollar, however, goes and comes back and has an endless life and, if used right, can become an institution. I wonder how this insight relates to the very deep discussion that’s been going on RE: international volunteering, voluntourism, and the merits of a volunteer paying for his or her volunteer experience. It’s too late to figure out now, but even my tired mind tells me there is at least some connection….

And one last thing: I would throw up some pictures of the conference proceedings, but my old, busted camera isn’t allowing me to download for some reason. So if forced to describe the scene in words, the late hour compels me to do so in only one: big. The plenary session hall in which Yunus spoke was like an airplane hangar; the exhibit hall has more buttons and fishbowls of candy than one should ever see in a lifetime (browse the list of exhibitors for a who’s-who of international education, exchange, and study abroad organizations); and the outdoor “LA Live!” opening reception was like a massive block party for which everyone was issued matching name badges and tote bags.


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One Response to “The key to winning a Nobel prize is to have no idea what you’re doing”

  1. Jo says:

    The way I see it:

    Charity dollar = volunteering to help, to show off one’s ability to contribute

    Social business dollar = volunteering as an equal exchange (helping others as much as enriching oneself) and continuing that because of the benefits one derives from it

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