Atlanta’s destiny — gateway of ‘global development from the bottom up’

By Maria Saporta

Atlanta’s destiny is coming into focus.

The latest evidence of that was Saturday night at the Salute to Greatness dinner — the annual fundraiser for the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Non-Violent Social Change.

It was at that dinner when Laura Turner Seydel introduced honoree Muhammad Yunus, the father of micro-credit who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.

“Professor Yunus is a close friend to my family. He’s like a brother to my father,” said Seydel of her father Ted Turner.

In fact, Yunus is a longtime board member of the United Nations Foundation, which was started by Turner to help improve the lives of people around the world.

“Professor Yunus will soon call Atlanta his second home with the launch of the Yunus Creative Lab,” Seydel announced after a couple of days of speculation.

Yunus, who lives in Dhaka, Bangladesh, acknowledged after the dinner. “It’s official,” he said. “We have to start a program in Atlanta. A lot of people are saying they want to be part of it.”

Yunus admitted that there’s a great deal of symbolism behind him making Atlanta a second home.

“Yes. I have a very close connection with Atlanta now and for many years back,” Yunus said. “Martin Luther King was a dream maker. King is someone who inspired me throughout my life.”

Atlanta’s spiritual leader — Andrew Young — capsulized the importance of having Yunus becoming a part-time resident of the city.

Yunus will contribute to a critical mass of leaders, organizations and companies based in Atlanta — all involved in helping cure diseases, reduce poverty and stimulate economic growth in countries around the world.

“We’ve got to find a way to feed the hungry,” Young said at the Salute to Greatness. “There’s got to be a way to make free enterprise and democracy a way to end poverty. By coming to this dinner you have volunteered to be a part of that movement. I’d like for you to begin with this — how to build a global economy from the bottom up.”

It’s a message Young has preached for decades — from the days he served in the U.S. Congress, representing Atlanta; from when he served as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations; to when he served as Atlanta’s mayor in the 1980s; to when he co-chaired the organization that hosted the 1996 Summer Olympic Games.

And yet much of those messages were formed when Young worked side-by-side with Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights movement.

Young told the audience Saturday night that when King attended his last S.C.L.C. convention in 1967 at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta hotel (where the Salute to Greatness dinner is held every year), “he was really launching the continuation of the struggle to end poverty.”

At a moment between courses, I asked Young to elaborate. He began to rattle off a list of leaders and organizations that radiate from Atlanta. Ted Turner, Jimmy Carter and the Carter Center, the King Center, CARE, the CDC to name a few.

But it’s easy to expand that list to include the Task Force for Global Health, MAP International, MedShare, Emory University, Morehouse School of Medicine, Georgia Tech and the many other institutes of higher learning.

And then there are all the Atlanta-based companies with a global focus — Coca-Cola, Delta Air Lines, CNN, UPS, Global Payments, InterContinental Exchange and a host of other players.

“This is the headquarters of global development from the bottom up,” said Young, crystalizing Atlanta’s core.

Already Atlanta can boast of having had two Nobel Peace Prize winners — Martin Luther King Jr. and former President Jimmy Carter. (Personally, I think a great case could be made to award a Nobel Peace Prize to Ted Turner, founder of CNN, the UN Foundation, the Nuclear Threat Initiative as well as a global philanthropist).

Plans now are underway for Atlanta to host Nobel Laureates either in 2014 or 2015 — likely in connection with the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, which is scheduled to open in the spring of 2014.

A gravitational pull that is bringing Yunus to town is helping build Atlanta’s “global development” platform.

Yunus shared part of his economic view of the world at a breakfast on Jan. 18 at the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation.

“Every time I see a problem, I see a business to solve that problem,” said Yunus, who has become a leader of “social business” — creating companies that solve a societal need while providing employment opportunities in communities.

“Social business help people in a sustainable way,” Yunus said. “The most intricate problems can be solved in a business way. Charity is not a solution to poverty. But charity is very important at the beginning.

The ultimate goal is to create an economy that does away with poverty.

“I always dream of a world where not a single person will be a poor person,” Yunus said at the dinner. “I dream of when we will put poverty in a museum. I also dream of a world where not a single person will be unemployed.”

For Atlanta, this is a continuum of what the city is all about. There are so many interlocking historical relationships woven together — making the city a gateway to the rest of the world.

It is our destiny.

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1 comments
James R. Oxendine
James R. Oxendine

This is an excellent perspective from which to further animate the ongoing conversation regarding Atlanta's future role in the global economic order  it encompasses several of the issues and institutions that a shared vision can be built around. Mr. Yunus's leadership adds additional value to the effort.