Weekdays in Worcester

Anh earlier posed the question: “How do you spend the weekend?” in her first piece on our blog. In this post, I pose you another question: How do you spend the weekday?!

I’ll tell you mine. I spend it on the Clark campus, usually running around between Jefferson, JC, the gym, and the library. With my relationship with the cold (we don’t get along well), I try my best to minimize my trips from here to there. You’ll find it hard to make me leave home once I’ve settled in.

Although I had set a goal for myself since first year to push beyond the gates of Clark, success proved harder to obtain than expected. Many events and opportunities are shared through the LEEP or Innovation and Entrepreneurship department emails, but I hardly make it to any. With the International Gala happening one week and the Variant Dance show the next weekend, I was almost not sure if I would make it to the talk by Muhammad Yunus on Tuesday, April 5th.

But life had been feeling a little dry, and I thought why not? If not now, then when? And so I somehow worked it out and found a ride to Mechanics Hall in the evening of April 5th.

For those of you who don’t know him, Muhammad Yunus is the founder of the globally acclaimed Grameen Bank (“Village Bank”) in Bangladesh. He pioneered the idea of micro-finance through reaching out to small villages and offering small loans to poor communities. For this project, Yunus received various awards and prizes, including the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.

Why, you might ask, would a Nobel Laureate come speak in Worcester? I was wondering the same thing. It turns out that our friend Becker College is opening up a branch of Muhammad Yunus’s Yunus Social Business Center at its campus. This Center will be the first of its kind in the United States, and the fifteenth in the world. Yunus’s visit serves as a celebration of the opening of the Center’s doors.

Meeting global leaders, for me, has always been exciting. It’s exciting to put a human presence to a name, to realize that the accomplishments that seem out of the world were brought by another human being with a brain and a heart just like anyone else’s. His story itself was very inspirational. The bank had started when he, a professor in a university in Bangladesh, felt frustrated at the disconnect between the discipline of economics and the reality of poverty around him. It was specifically the famine in 1974 that pushed him to make small loans to families from low-income communities. This, then, grew into the bank. His story includes various points of obstacles, and how he overcame it with creativity.

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(Photo by author)

The end of his talk brought all of us to stand up and applaud him for his work. Despite that cheery mood, the Q&A session brought about some critical thoughts. I myself wished he would have spoken more about the role of the government, and how his model could create better forms of governance. At the beginning of the talk, he had noted that social business is necessary to combat government failures. However, I am skeptical that business alone can solve our society’s problems.

After the talk, I looked up some criticisms that Yunus and his micro-finance models have received. An article by The Guardian published back in 2011 referenced a study that essentially concluded that “the enthusiasm for micro finance has been rooted in the myth of the heroic individual entrepreneur, the rags to riches fairytales, Dick Whittington style.”  Indeed, various points during Yunus’s speech were so well told that I felt like I was listening to a self-discovery story rather than learning about a solution to a major world problem. It was almost too optimistic and simplistic, the way he glided over the limitations of his solution. The plot flew with no interruptions. Human ingenuity could solve everything.

Yet while I am inclined to disclaim his solution, I can’t. While this judgment may mean little, his presence seemed kind and well-intentioned. Can you really judge a person for trying? I mean, at least they’re doing something!

I am again reminded of how challenging convention and being critical all the time can be depressing and limiting. That day, I was outside the iron gates – I might as well let myself be fooled and optimistic for some time.

In her post, Anh talked about how weekends can get boring if you only stay on campus. Well, the mind can get trapped if you only spend weekdays on campus, too. Just a little change in scenario and crowd here and there can be quite rejuvenating.

In fact, once you get started, it’s almost hard to stop. On Thursday April 14th, I headed to the DCU Center for the Worcester Woman’s Leadership Conference. As usual, I could almost hear the skeptic go off in my head as I learned that one of the keynote speakers had worked at Fox News. Yet her words were so inspiring, and resonated with me in a way I hadn’t been for a while (Check out Mel Robbins’ How to stop screwing yourself TEDx talk). I then allowed myself to forget the politics and enjoy the moment.

It made me think that you really can’t rationalize everything. Not everything is supposed to be debated, to be argued, to be criticized. Many times, it’s best just to feel and empathize.

After all, that’s how you have hope.

-Charis

(Cover image by author)

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