Note: This article was originally published in January 2008:
This past week I had the privilege of seeing Muhammad Yunus speak at a World Affairs Council of Houston luncheon. Yunus, of Bangladesh, is a 2006 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and a 1999 recipient of the Indira Gandhi prize for peace, disarmament and development in India.
In the late 1970′s, he started Grameen Bank (“Bank of Villages”, in Bangla) to address the horrible conditions of poverty he saw in his country. Poor people have no collateral and are therefore not clients of traditional banks. Yunus saw how loans of small amounts, or micro-credit, could advance the rural poor, primarily impoverished women. By creating a program of giving these small loans to support rural business, Grameem has helped over 50 million borrowers in Bangladesh rise out of acute poverty. (Acute poverty is measured by having your children in school, being able to eat three meals a day, have clean drinking water, toilets and the ability to repay their loans.) Grameen also facilitated the transformation of many beggars in the country to businessmen by asking them to begin carrying small products that households might want with them when they went begging. This resulted in the training of many new “personal shoppers” who started bringing items out by request when they went door to door.
Grameen has also seen to the education, both primary and secondary, of their clients’ children. He shared an incident that occurred in Austin the day before his speech in Houston. A young man came up to him and introduced himself, saying that he was the son of one of Grameen’s first women to receive a loan. He recalled how, as a small child, he used to accompany his mother to Grameen’s offices once a month where she repaid her loan. He was now a student at the University of Texas. I was moved by the pride that reflected on Mr. Yunus’s face in the telling of that story. What a legacy!