Grameen's Yunus on innovation in philanthropy

I had the chance to sit down with 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus today, who was in New York, as I am, for the Clinton Global Initiative meeting. My colleague, Steve Hamm, joined me for the interview and posted his own take. Last time I spoke with Yunus was nearly three years ago, right after he won the Nobel. Today, I was struck by Yunus’s excitement over the potential for mobile phones. Yunus pioneered microfinance, the practice of making tiny loans to entrepreneurs in developing nations, such as his home country of Bangladesh, in order to help them lift themselves out of poverty. Many of those entrepreneurs have used those loans to pay for mobile phones, which they then charge villagers fees to use. Those little businesses have turned lives around. Now, with so much computing power on phones, Yunus sees a chance for the development of applications to do more that just help those entrepreneurs. They can also improve the lives of the customers those entrepreneurs serve. “We have more opportunities for innovation,” said Yunus, who’s just started using an iPhone. “All aspects of human life can be brought to this. It’s such a simple device. It’s always with you.” Grameen, for example is working with Intel, to develop simple software that will help screen women for risky pregnancies. The program includes a series of 30 questions that pregnant women answer with a keypad on a mobile phone. The responses can trigger red flags that then lead women to get medical care they might not have otherwise sought.