Day 1 Closing Dialogue with Nobel Laureates:
'Where is the next source of hidden value?'
- James J. HECKMAN Henry Schultz Distinguished Service Professor in Economics and the College Director of Center for the Economics of Human Development, University of Chicago
- Muhammad YUNUS Founder, Grameen Bank
- Leong CHEUNG Executive Director, Charities and Community, The Hong Kong Jockey Club
Mr Leong Cheung opened the discussion by introducing Professor Muhammad Yunus and Professor James Heckman. He invited both to share their own stories of transformation.
As is well known, Professor Yunus’s idea of microfinance has changed the lives of millions of people around the world, particularly in low-income countries. It came about when he was wrestling with the unexplainable differences between economics theory, which he was teaching at a university, and his personal observations of loan sharking in Bangladesh. In 1974-75, Bangladesh was struck by famine which exacerbated the problems of hunger, health, and poverty. The appalling conditions inspired him to start loaning money to people from low-income communities in order to save them from loan sharking. This led to the formation of Grameen Bank.
Professor Heckman similarly took the audience along the road he had travelled before finding the defining passion of his career. He gathered experience in multiple areas like healthcare, policy-making, law and microeconomics before finally going deep into his groundbreaking research on skills development in the early childhood stage (0-3 years) as a key lever for social mobility and positive socio-economic outcomes. Over the years, he collected evidence on the impact of early childhood education and the role of parents and the wider ecosystem, including educational institutions, in enabling that.
The discussion then flowed to the pros and cons of IT advancement to humankind, and by extension, its potential to further social good. Professor Yunus expressed his concerns about the unregulated use of concepts like artificial intelligence, believing they could do more harm than good. He urged everyone to define a relationship between highly-intelligent IT systems and humans, so as to guide these forces in a positive direction. In terms of institutional preparation, he suggested issuing universal guidance for the use of technology. Professor Heckman, on the other hand, was more optimistic about the role of technology in socio-economic outcomes. Looking forward, however, he said we needed to put some checks and balances in place by reflecting on the question of using technology for what purpose and by whom.
As a closing note, Professor Yunus inspired the delegates to try out new approaches and be ambitious with their goals. He remarked how this present generation had a bright opportunity to accelerate social transformation given the advancements in technology and entrepreneurial drive. Professor Heckman echoed his thoughts, encouraging all to reflect on the past generation to gather lessons for the future.