Chancellor's Speech

Good afternoon. As-salami alaykum. Distinguished friends. 

As Pamela mentioned, this is a historical day. For me, of course, it’s a historical day because I’ve always been a very informal person.  Look what you have done to me! (laughter) All these glittering robes and fanfare and the procession are completely just the opposite of me. But here I am. Converting an informal person into a very formal person: that’s historical. And I always insist the chair that I sit in has to be just the same as what everybody else sits in, but when I see this chair (the Chancellor’s chair) that scares me. I’m not used to sitting on a chair that is different from everybody else’s chair, so this is, again, a historical occasion (more laughter). I hope it’s for a good cause.

Pamela has given some reasons why I have come and joined her in her efforts to make something happen that we believe in very strongly. I think Pamela has an astrologer some place she consults before she organises meetings like this. Because, otherwise, how could she ensure the bright sun will be shining out there? Yesterday she insisted that there would be bright sunshine tomorrow during the procession and celebration, and sure enough it’s here. And with that strength of astrology behind her, hopefully the term that I will be starting will be a good one.  Let’s see how far we can go with it.

And when I came to the university here today, another feeling I had was of coming full-circle. I was in Chittagong University, as Pamela narrated the story, and I tried to get out of the campus and be with the people next door to the campus, to try to see if I could make myself useful to at least some people, even one person, in that village in an everyday way. So that took me away from the university. I left the campus and never went back. The work that I started in that little village, Jobra, took me to many, many Jobras around the world. Now, in the final round, I have come back to the campus in a very formal way. Today is the completion of that circle: I am back on the campus.

But, as I come back to the campus and accept the honour that you give me, I will be looking for my Jobra, right here, for the same reason – because I have always felt the university is not only a world of knowledge, trying to find new ways of solving global problems, which is a very important role the university has to play, but at the same time I strongly feel that that knowledge has to spill over into the neighbourhood before you solve the problems of the world. The challenge you face right next door to your campus is the most important one, because a thousand-mile journey starts with the first little step. And that little step is the neighbourhood. And that neighbourhood must feel that the presence of this university is ‘a blessing for us, because we got something from them. They showed us the way to solve our problems and today we will overcome our problems because of the existence of this university’.

Otherwise I feel the university is an empty house, a concept, it’s more an ivory tower than a real problem solver. So I hope that feeling will become strong on this campus because of the feeling that I bring to you, that this is a role we need to play.

Another aspect that I have been saying since I was in the Chittagong University campus, after going to the village I said I had learned from the village: that village has become my university. I learned from the people things I could never learn within the campus, within the classrooms.  The villagers were my great professors: they taught me things about life that I never knew about. What the village taught me and what universities tried to teach me was different.

Universities I felt, and this is my own assessment, tried to give me a bird’s eye view. You fly high and see the world at a glance, you can see everything – you see a lot. Since you see a lot, you think that you can solve all these problems. It looks very simple and easy. And I feel that is a mistake. When you fly so high, you see a lot but you don’t really see it, you make it up in your mind rather than really notice it very carefully because eyesight doesn’t give you that much power from the top.

What the village has given me is the worm’s eye view: I see very little but see very clearly. When you see very clearly it’s easy to find solutions, the solution becomes easy, it’s not complicated any more. And everything I have done reflects that. People say, ‘why, this is simple’, and I say, ‘yes, problems are really simple’.

Somehow we created a tradition of thinking in very complicated terms. We don’t like, at least academics don’t like, simple things. They love making things complicated and getting trapped into those complications. So nature is very simple. If you see things closely, you see the simplicity of them and how the solutions emerge from them. That is what I would like to bring from my side, whatever way I can, to this University as long as I remain associated with this University.

Young people always thrill me and as the days go on I get more thrilled by young people than I did before. When I come to university campuses, that is the most exciting thing for me: looking at the young people, because today’s young generation is the most powerful young generation in the entire human history. Not because they are special in any other way as human beings, but because they are tremendously lucky to have all the technologies at their command which no other generation in history has ever had. Their capacity is enhanced manifold because of the technology they have. And we missed out on it.

In a way I am jealous, in another way I feel very proud that I have seen a generation which has so much power in their hands. The question I keep raising with the young people is: are you aware of this power? Because you look like everybody else, and your parents must be telling you what they did in their time when they were your age, and you feel like you are just going through the same process. That’s wrong. Because your parents never had such power that you have. The power you have under your ‘fist’ is so much power that you can change the world any time you want. The first thing I insist is: please be aware of your power. You are a genie; you just look like a human being that’s all. But you have the power of a genie. If you wish, you can turn around everything. First be aware and then ask yourself, if you are a genie and have all this power, if you believe in it, how are you going to use it? That’s the most important part of your education. Not learning maths, which you can learn any time you want; not learning history, you can learn it any time you want; but knowing that you are the most powerful human being on earth, each one of you as an individual.

Get prepared for that. And the education system, I keep repeating, has to adjust to that. It is no longer training some people who don’t know and telling them what it is (they should know), it is no longer the teaching; teaching is no longer a guru training his disciples. Those days are gone. This is more of a partnership, more like a coach training the world champion. The coach is never the champion, he will never be the champion – ‘but the one that I am coaching is a global champion. I know that. I’m trying only to be of some help to him or her so they can conquer the world’ – I think that’s what the education system should be.

And the first thing the education system should ask each one of the students, particularly at the level the universities are at, is: ‘what do you want to do as a human being?’ Go through that exercise. Other things can be achieved any time – today this is available at your fingertips – but knowing yourself and your dreams is the most important thing. We have no dreaming sessions in our education system. So we turn out to be someone who is just getting a degree, celebrating that they got their diploma, and now applying for jobs.

This is not a factory to make jobseekers.  In my work, even in Grameen Bank, where the young generation, the second generation of young people are coming from Grameen borrowers, the illiterate women, (they are educated young people because of the Grameen education loans), but they are really frustrated because there is no employment. I keep telling them: ‘don’t look for employment, that’s the wrong road for you. You are very privileged young people. Always remember you are not job seekers, you are job givers. And feel like a job giver. That is your job: the mission of your life is to give jobs, not seek jobs. Seeking jobs is a petty thing, don’t go for petty things, go for big things. That is what life is made out of’. And, in the beginning, they are puzzled, but they soon realise what I’m saying. The creation of jobs is not a big deal. Each human being is an entrepreneur. So we have to get away from producing job seekers, we have to bring out the creative power of entrepreneurs in each human being, creating a new world for them.

So, this is a challenge for all of us together, because we are in a transition period, a transition from the world that we know now to the world that we don’t know yet, but what we imagine that world should be. And it should be very soon, in 25-30 years from now, things will be very different.  That’s the different world we should be preparing for, not the present world – it’s out, it’s finished.  In that new world there will be no-body who we call a poor person. I keep insisting that poverty should be in a museum not in any civilised human society. It doesn’t belong in human society. And in that world, nobody should be unemployed. There is nothing wrong with an unemployed human being; he or she is as capable as anybody else. It’s the system that’s gone wrong, making people unemployed. And at this time, in this transition period, these young people, this new generation, will redesign the whole system. I keep saying, if you can design all kinds of software and games, you can design our own society where there is no reason why an able-bodied person has to remain unemployed, trashed by the system. Before the system trashes you, you trash the system – because you are more powerful than the system.

In this new world, nobody will be on benefits. It doesn’t make sense that anybody should be on benefits – no human being is less than anybody else. So we will create a society where everybody has the same opportunity. So that is a challenge for all of us together to address.

This is the last point I want to make.  We always refer to young people as the future leaders. And at one time probably this was true, but this is not true any longer. And I keep saying that, for God’s sake, let’s not repeat that. Because they are not future leaders, they are leaders already. They are the leaders. The future leaders mean they will be replacing the leaders who are in society. They are not replacing anybody. They are creating a completely new breed of leaders to create a new world for themselves and for all of us who are on this planet. So, this is the hope: that we come together and make it happen.

Thank you for giving me this opportunity to take on this responsibility. I hope I have made some sense. Although you have made this historical transformation for me, I hope to get back to my normal self as quickly as possible and be comfortable with that. Thank you.