This week, all eyes will be on Oslo for the announcement of the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize, one of the world’s highest honours.
Established by dynamite entrepreneur, Alfred Nobel in 1895, the prize’s 129 laureates have achieved everything from ending centuries-long conflicts to empowering the disadvantaged to start their own businesses.
As a businessperson, the Nobel laureates who inspire me most are not the politicians or the peacemakers, but the people whose courage and wit helped to bring enormous change to their communities.
While winners like Theodore Roosevelt, Yasser Arafat, and Shimon Peres — who passed away last week — are, no doubt, inspiring for their statesmanship, courage and diplomacy, the prize winners that really resonate with me are people like Malala Yousafzai and Muhammad Yunus.
Nobel Peace Prize changemakers
What attracts me to these laureates is the way they bravely took up the challenge of bringing change to their communities — often through unconventional means. Malala Yousafzai, for example, agitated for the rights of all girls in her community to receive an education.
From the age of 11, Malala spoke out about girls’ right to education at press clubs and political gatherings. Later, she used an anonymous BBC blog to rally international attention to a Taliban prohibition on the education of girls in her home, the Swat Valley.
With her father, who ran a local school, she covertly continued her education in spite of the ban. Of course, we know now that this eventually led to her being shot and nearly losing her life.
Malala’s story shows not just incredible courage in standing up for one’s beliefs, but also her ability to use the tools she had at her disposal to fight for what she believed in: a global movement for the education of women.
Her efforts were rewarded in 2013, when the United Nations member states pledged to eradicate the barriers to education for the 66 million girls in the world who were unable to attend school.
Thinking small to achieve big social and business change
Another Nobel laureate who resonates with me doesn’t receive much media attention. Muhammad Yunus, a Bangladeshi activist and entrepreneur won the award in 2006 for an initiative called Grameen Bank, a pioneer of what is known as microcredit.
It’s no secret that people without much income or assets find it difficult to get loans. This can put them at a huge disadvantage if they want to invest in their education or in starting a small business.
The Grameen Bank’s microcredit model offered easy credit to people who might otherwise be unable to access it to help them start their own businesses. A huge success, it’s enabled tens of thousands of people to take their futures into their own hands by going into business for themselves.
What inspires me about Yunus’ story is the faith that he had in the people of his community to be able to start their own businesses if they had enough capital. Backing individuals like Yunus does allows disadvantaged people to take control of their lives and futures.
Having founded several businesses myself, and having contracted many self-employed businesspeople, I’ve been able to witness how empowering running a business can be. Independent marketing companies in the Appco Group network, for example, give people the opportunity to develop their own career paths and work towards running their own businesses, if they choose.
Giving people, regardless of their background, the opportunity to be the masters of their own future is one of Yunus’ great legacies. Looking forward to the announcement this Friday, I hope the jury will continue to recognise people like Malala Yousafzai and Muhammad Yunus, whose tireless work has empowered people to achieve their potential.