Muhammad Yunus: The man who empowered Bangladeshi women
By Mahendra Ved, Indo-Asian News Service
New Delhi, Oct 13 (IANS) ‘One day our grandchildren will go to museums to see what poverty was like.’ Prof Muhammad Yunus, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for 2006, said ten years ago.
It is typical of the man’s quiet determination and sunny optimism. In an area where others talk and theorise, he has proved to be a doer.
The unassuming man in hand-spun (khadi) clothes is one of the best things that have happened to an impoverished and young nation struggling to feed its teeming poor, and trying to make them self-sufficient.
What has marked out Yunus is that he dumped the development theories that he learnt while studying in the United States and what he taught briefly at Chittagong University in favour of action.
Frustrated by watching the rural poor unable to get any economic help from the banks because they had no collateral to give, he began by paying the first loan, as little as $27, from his own pocket to women of Jobra village near Chittagong University in southern Bangladesh.
They knitted bamboo baskets and were quick to repay the loan with interest.
He approached the banks, but they would not budge, citing rules and experience that the rural folks did not repay.
Yunus proved them wrong. He began by himself being the guarantor. The risk, it turned out, was minimal. The loan repayment was cent percent.
Tired of persuading the banks, he decided to open his own bank in 1976, opening a brand new vista in rural Bangladesh.
As a pioneer in the growing field of ‘micro-lending’, Grameen has shown that the rural poor – even in a country virtually synonymous with deprivation – can make productive use of credit.
To many, this approach is a more effective antidote to poverty than traditional giveaways.
‘Compared to Grameen Bank,’ says Yunus, ‘other banks look like charity outfits for the rich’.
He told this writer in the course of an interview in 1998 that when rural women became his first borrowers, the men folk protested. ‘I was certain the women would pay up, so I decided to ignore their protests and persuaded them instead to let their wives remain the borrowers.’
Today, Grameen Bank’s patrons are 94 percent women who have an unparalleled repayment rate of 98 percent.
The government initially owned 60 percent of Grameen and the borrowers the rest. Today, its 1.4 million borrowers, each with a mandatory share (Taka 100 or $2 each), own 88 percent of the bank.
The Grameen Bank operates 1,092 branches in 36,000 rural Bangladesh villages, providing credit to over two million of the country’s poorest.
Since its inception, Grameen has loaned more than $2 billion.
A Fulbright scholar at Vanderbilt University, Professor Yunus received his Ph.D in Economics in 1969. Later that year, he became an assistant professor of Economics at Middle Tennessee State University before returning home.
Yunus has been lucky in that his work was quickly recognised at home and abroad. He has received the Ramon Magsaysay Award (1984) from Manila; the Aga Khan Award for Architecture (1989), the Mohamed Shabdeen Award for Science (1993) from Sri Lanka; and the World Food Prize by World Food Prize Foundation (1994) from the US.
Recognised at home despite political turmoil, he has received the President’s Award (1978), Central Bank Award (1985), and the Independence Day Award (1987), the nation’s highest award.
He acts as an advisor to a number of institutions across the world.
The concept of Grameen Bank has spread to over 30 countries, where it has been replicated with local variations.
A group of seven US Congressmen urged the then President Bill Clinton to make micro-enterprise development efforts, modelled specifically on Grameen, the ‘hallmark’ of his foreign-aid programme.
They found that Yunus already had the admiration of Clinton, who once met Yunus in Washington and found him worthy of a Nobel Prize.
‘I was just blown away,’ Clinton gushed to an interviewer later. ‘He made enterprise work. He promoted discipline, not dependence.’
Copyright Indo-Asian News Service