Muhammad Yunus is the founder of the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh, which serves 5 million families with microfinancial services, a founding director of Grameen Foundation USA and a founding member of Ashoka’s Global Academy for Social Entrepreneurship (www.ashoka.org). He has transformed the lives of thousands of impoverished people through the grameen bank — a scheme that threw established banking norms to the wind by lending money only to the poorest of the poor. see on The Tribune.
Mohammad Yunus – Bangladesh
Loans of a few dollars for tools to husk rice, to buy a cow or a sewing machine – all small things have made a big difference to people’s lives. Many of the 1.2 million grameen borrowers, 90 percent of them women, had been reduced to begging for a living. Now most of them have a roof over their heads and can support themselves. Yet Yunus does not find his achievements extraordinary, he explains that the problem with traditional approaches to poverty alleviation and development is that they fail to seek things at a grass-roots level.
”Not all people have access to a bird’s eye view” explains Yunus, ”poor people don’t. They’re too busy seeking out a survival for themselves with their worm’s eye view.”
Yunus believes that social scientists and development experts overwhelm themselves with the seeming enormity of problems in the developing world, Yunus works on the principle that large
problems are merely the composite of a great number of simple problems. And simple problems can be solved by simple people.
”Removal of poverty must be a continuous process of creation of assets by the poor at a steady rate” says Yunus. ”Poor people know what they must do to get out of the rut, but the people who make decisions refuse to put faith in their ability,” he adds in exasperation.
A former economics professor at the chittagong university, Yunus says he learnt ‘real-life economics’ by unlearning all he was taught. His faith in established economic principles was shattered by the disastrous famine of 1974, when thousands died. ‘I got really frustrated and out of disgust … began walking through a village just outside the campus” Yunus recalls. ”I was trying to find what is the poor people’s economics … so that village became a university for me.”
One of the first people he met was a widow with two daughters, Sufia Khatun (see next day). She was a landless peasant, one of the 55 million in Bangladesh, a country with a population twice that number. Sufia had borrowed money to make bamboo stools which she then sold, but as the loan had to be repaid, her daily profit was only two cents. Yunus says that he ”couldn’t accept why anybody should make only two cents for such a beautiful skill,” all Khatun needed to improve her income was the equivalent of four dollars. Yunus lent her the money and her profits soared to one and a quarter dollars every day.
The spectacular result prompted Yunus to approach a local bank to lend Sufia money. The manager laughed at the idea saying that the bank had never lent money to an illiterate woman who could not provide collateral. Yunus agreed to become her guarantor and the manager relented. Sufia repaid the loan and continued to make profits, but the bank still refused to deal with her directly. It was then that Yunus decided to set up a bank which would cater only to those rejected by traditional banks – the poor, the illiterate, and women.
What began with a few small grants and loans from international donors, has now provided over 100 million dollars in loans. Ninety eight percent of all loans are paid back.
The secret of grameen’s success is the trust between the bank and its borrowers, a result of their regular interaction. In the upside-down world of grameen, the borrowers do not go to the bank, the bank goes to them. Representatives of the 973 branches of grameen visit the village for a weekly meeting with the members. Besides disbursement of loans and repayment of interest, the meeting discusses all sorts of problems – personal and collective.
The bank also aims to raise health and environmental consciousness, each of its members must plant at least one sapling a year as part of a afforestation programme. ‘Llending money does not help the poor individual,” says Yunus ”unless at the same time you help bring out inner potentials that help the individual overcome seemingly insuperable odds.”
book: Banker to the poor;
Grameen Bank for the Poor;
list of received awards;