on August 8, 2007
This book is a testament to the good one can do to millions of people!
Poverty belongs in museums! One day, thanks to humanitarians like Muhammad Yunus, poverty will be something of the past and totally extinct, and the next generation will wonder how poverty was ever allowed to exist within our midst. Indeed that will be a glorious day!
Professor Yunus recounts his early life living in India, Bangladesh, and then in the United States. He was born in 1940 in British-ruled India. He was one of fourteen children born to devout Muslim parents. His mother was often ill, but despite this, his father never left her. Yunus later obtained a scholarship to study in the States, earned a Ph.D. in economics at Vanderbilt University, and later became a professor. He once commented to his students, "What good were all my complex theories when people were dying of starvation on the sidewalks and porches across from my lecture hall? Nothing in the economic theories I taught reflected the life around me."
As a young man he was very involved in the independence of Bangladesh when hundreds of thousands died, and many more after Bangladesh declared itself independent. The country was devastated, and stripped of its natural resources. Professor Yunus quickly left the US and headed to Bangladesh in order to help create a government, and thus get international help and support.
He was very concerned about the poor, and decided to help them. He was surprised why banks did not lend them money. Also the majority of the poor couldn't write or read, so they couldn't even fill out the forms required by banks in order to obtain a loan.
Grameen Bank (The name means the "bank of the village") was thus started in 1976 as an experimental project to combat rural poverty by providing credit to the very poor. Professor Yunus loaned $27 from his own pocket to forty-two stool makers living in a tiny village. These women only needed enough credit to purchase the raw materials for their trade. Yunus's small loan helped them break the cycle of poverty for good. Throughout the book you'll read of many such success stories.
Professor Yunus faced a lot of obstacles in creating his bank. He was accused by the Muslim clergy (Mullahs) of wanting to destroy Islamic traditions, and of promoting Christian values in Bangladesh. Some of his staff were even threatened. This was due to the fact that the bank encourages women to take loans and work, something of a taboo and highly unacceptable to Muslim women living in Bangladesh. In fact, many women were beaten by their husbands for the mere mention of money, let alone taking a loan. Women were also not encouraged to receive an education or work. Professor Yunus says, "All her life she has been told that she is no good, that she brings only misery to her family, and that they cannot afford to pay her dowry. Many times she hears her mother or her father tell her she should have been killed at birth, aborted, or starved. But today, for the first time in her life, an institution has trusted her with a great sum of money. She promises that she will never let down the institution or herself. She will struggle to make sure that every penny is paid back (65)."
In 1983 Grameen Bank (GB) was officially established. It is unique in that it has reversed conventional banking practices by removing the need for collateral and created a banking system based on mutual trust. It promotes credit as a human right. Its mission is to help the poor families to help themselves to overcome poverty by issuing them with microcredits (very small amounts, like $7, something a conventional bank would never do). It is offered for creating self-employment for income-generating activities and housing, as opposed to consumption. It is particularly targeted towards poor women. It provides service at the door-step of the poor based on the principle that the people should not go to the bank; the bank should go to the people. This principal is helpful in a Muslim society where women are not allowed to leave their homes without the approval of their husband, and are not allowed to speak with men.
In order to obtain loans a borrower must join a group of borrowers, with each borrower recommending another. If one member of the group defaults on payment of his loan, then the whole group is denied further loans! However, to encourage destitute members to join, he/she does not have to belong to a group, no saving is necessary, no weekly repayment is necessary, his/her loan terms are decided by him/her, in consultation with his/her mentor.
A member is considered to have moved out of poverty if her family fulfills the following criteria:
1. The family lives in a house worth at least Tk. 25,000 (twenty five thousand) or a house with a tin roof, and each member of the family is able to sleep on bed instead of on the floor.
2. Family members drink pure water.
3. All children in the family over six years of age go to school or have finished primary school.
4. Minimum weekly loan installment of the borrower is Tk. 200 or more.
5. Family uses sanitary latrine.
6. Family has adequate clothing for everyday use and for winter, and mosquito-nets.
7. Family has sources of additional income, such as a vegetable garden, so that they are able to fall back on these sources of income when they need additional money.
8. The borrower maintains an average annual balance of Tk. 5,000 in his/her savings accounts.
9. Family has three square meals a day throughout the year. No member of the family goes hungry any time of the year.
10. If any member of the family falls ill, family can afford to take all necessary steps to seek adequate healthcare.
Professor Yunus distrusted dealing with the World Bank. According to professor Yunus, the world bank, with its headquarters away from Bangladesh, does not see poverty, but relies on theories. He also was wary of how they took full control of a country's financial needs.
There were a number of major natural disasters in Bangladesh. The 1998 flood was the worst of all. Half of the country was under flood-water for ten long weeks. Grameen borrowers lost most of their possessions including their houses because of the flood. Soon borrowers started to feel the burden of accumulated loans. They found the new installment sizes exceeded their capacity to repay. Grameen Bank repayment started to show quick decline. This was a good opportunity to design a new Grameen methodology, incorporating all the lessons learnt. As a result, Grameen Bank II was created.
The bank believes that the poor always pay back their loans, unlike the very rich. On some occasions they may take longer time to pay back than it was originally stipulated. Many things can go wrong for a poor person during the loan period. According to professor Yunus, since the borrower is paying additional interest for the extra time, where is the problem?
Grameen Bank has introduced higher education loans for all students who can enter into the higher educational institutions (medical, engineering, etc). Students are made responsible to repay the loans when they start earning. Half the scholarships are reserved for girl students. The remaining 50 per cent is open for both boys and girls. Each year Grameen Bank gives out 3,704 scholarships.
Grameen believes that poverty is not created by the poor; it is created by the institutions and policies which surround them. In order to eliminate poverty, all we need to do is to make appropriate changes in the institutions and policies, and/or create new ones.
Muhammad Yunus and his Grameen Bank of Bangladesh won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize.
As of May, 2007, Grameen Bank had 7.21 million borrowers, 97 percent of whom are women. With 2431 branches, it provides services in 78,659 villages, covering more than 94 percent of the total villages in Bangladesh.
About 3 billion people live on less than $1 per day. Professor Yunus' vision is of eliminating poverty by 2050.
This is really a fascinating book and I highly recommend it.