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Small Loans, Big Dreams: How Nobel Prize Winner Muhammad Yunus and Microfinance are Changing the World Hardcover – April 4, 2008
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The stark reality of global povertythe poorest half of the world's population owns less than one percent of its assets, and that nearly one billion people subsist on less than $1 per dayrarely registers even a ripple in the international media. Western attempts to stem hunger and poverty are often piecemeal and ineffective, applying band-aids rather than finding permanent solutions. But Muhammad Yunus, visionary founder of the Grameen Bank, has demonstrated different and more inclusive ways of approaching the problems that confront humanity. In creating Grameen, he turned the conventional wisdom of traditional financial institutions on its head: instead of seeking out wealthy people with collateral and excluding the poor, Yunus sought out the impoverished and excluded the rich. His approach, known as microfinance, has revolutionized global antipoverty efforts.
In Small Loans, Big Dreams, Alex Counts presents compelling stories of women benefiting from Yunus's microcredit in rural Bangladesh and urban Chicago. He sets the stage by telling the story of Grameen's founding by Yunus, describing the environments in which Grameen Bank and the Full Circle Funda bold effort to apply the same principles in Chicagoand their clients operated. He then recounts the experiences of different borrowers in each country, interspersing them with stories of Yunus, his colleagues, and their counterparts in Chicago. These fascinating accounts not only show the power of the strategy, but also prove that it is no panacea that absolves governments and businesses from their obligation to consider the needs of the poor. Instead, microfinance emphasizes that other sectors think about the implications of its success for their own workwhich may be based on flawed assumptions about the poor that the success of microfinance has disproved.
Microfinance has the potential to reach truly massive numbers in the years ahead. But in order to grasp future opportunities and challenges, it is essential that people everywhere understand just what it takes to build a large microfinance institution like Grameen Bank, and how this allows for market-based poverty reduction through the principle of self-help. To that end, this book provides a straightforward, inspiring, and accessible guide.
From the Back Cover
Praise for Small Loans, Big Dreams
"I was enthralled to see the difference a few dollars loaned with no collateral in Bangladesh could benefit and change Chicago's poorest of the poor. I learned how pennies defeated myths about the poor. This book will renew your belief in the American dream and show that there can be economic liberty and justice for allhere AND abroad! This story must be told and retoldand then updated again as the successes pour in. Please keep fast-forwarding!"
MIKE ENZI, U.S. Senator, Wyoming
"Counts moves past facts and figures to show the human sideand human cost of poverty. By focusing on the experiences of individual women, Counts demonstrates the power of microfinance to bring opportunity where it otherwise would not exist, and ultimately transform people's lives. I am pleased to be able to support Grameen, as I believe its important work addresses one of the critical issues of our time."
Pierre Omidyar, founder and Chairman, eBay, cofounder and founding partner, Omidyar Network
"Microfinance is the most effective and noble tool for combating poverty. It builds on the strengths rather than the perceived weaknesses of poor communities. In this memorable book, Alex Counts tells of working with Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, the pioneer of the movement, and he illustrates his analysis with fascinating and inspiring tales of how the process has worked."
WALTER ISAACSON, President, The Aspen Institute
"In Small Loans, Big Dreams, Alex Counts humanizes, through deft storytelling and solid analysis, the borrowers as well as the leaders of the microfinance movement. The 2006 Nobel Peace Prize broadened the awareness of microfinance and Grameen. This book deepens ones understanding of this emerging industry, and lets the reader see that it is about not just transactions, but transformationsof people and of entire economies."
PAUL MARITZ, former senior vice president, Microsoft Corporation
"Small Loans, Big Dreams provides a powerful and poignant glimpse into the real world of microfinance. From the well-told stories, we learn that the success of Grameen and microfinance is not just having innovative business models nor good intentions. Rather, it is organizations' and people's willingness and ability to touch the lives of individualsto hear their stories, to understand their needs and aspirations, and to provide them with an opportunity to improve their own livelihood that makes the Grameen model and similar programs such a successful poverty-alleviation tool."
MARGE MAGNER, founder and Managing partner, Brysam Global Partners
"At a time when 'change' is the watchword, here is a story of the devotion and tenacity it takes to turn a powerful idea into a powerful reality."
JANET McKINLEY, retired chair, The Income Fund of America, Inc.
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This is written by the head of Grameen Foundation in the U.S. It is extremely positive but the writing is just OK. It makes an exciting idea a drag. Also it isn't clear who the book is written for. It is a bit too dense for most readers but it isn't technical enough for economists or policy makers.
Also, I didn't see of the criticism of microfinance. There are many. There have been many cases when microfinance didn't live up to the hype and some cases where it may have done harm.
Microfinance and Grameen Bank are extremely important. For someone wanting the technical aspect of microfinance I would recommend The Economics of Microfinance y Beatriz Armendáriz and Jonathan Morduch. An interested layperson could start with the New York Times articles.
Perhaps the best part is the comparison of slum Chicago with Bangladesh. Chicago doesn't look that good in comparison.
Don't misconstrue this review as an indictment of microfinance. And this book isn't horrible, I was just surprised that something so important could be dull.
In an era of information overload, this book tells the rather simple story of an incredible man with an incredible idea. Statistics, econometrics, and randomized control trials do not tell the whole story. And are on a rather shaky pedestal. Alex Counts tells the story of Microfinance from the inside; the story of those who made it happen.
I left this book with the small library in Kimende, Kenya in the hope that it would inspire others in the same way that it inspired me.
This book is perfect for people who enjoy reading about everyday heros - regular people who overcome personal and social obstacles to create a better life for themselves, their families and others. It is difficult not to be touched and get a deeper appreciation for our humanity as you read the stories of the women who step out of out what is comfortable and familiar in their culture and become leaders for a new future. Reading the stories of these women creating a new future in the circumstances they have, it is hard not to be left with more courage and commitment to tackle the issues and circumstances in our personal lives and our communities. With simplicity, gradualism, faith and partnership, truly any difference can be made. This book demonstrates this.
This book is ALSO perfect for people who like to read books about real world issues. Alex shares the evolution of perhaps the most effective program of all time to combat poverty and he does it so that the reader has multiple perspectives (Muhammad Yunus's personal history/journey to empower the poorest of the poor, the current economic and social constraints that disable the poor from participating in capitalism and pulling themselves out of poverty, a glimpse of the day to day experience and dedication of the staff at the Grameen Bank and those women who use micro-finance to give themselves and their families better lives). It is useful, understandable and insightful to readers regardless of whether you consider yourself knowledgeable about economics or a complete beginner.
This book would be excellent for book clubs and discussion groups - there is something for everyone to love and so many directions that discussions could take, every reader would have much to contribute and also be left wanting to learn more. I knew nothing of economics before I read this and now I both know more and what to know more. It was interesting to see the comparisons of the programs in the US and Bangladesh and to realize in our American `land of opportunity for all' we literally have more societal and legal constraints that are actually in the way of empowering our poor to get out of poverty.
The original micro-finance programs have been able to be duplicated in many different cultures and countries, which is a testimony to the integrity and resiliency of Yunus' thinking and design and the work of many people. Alex also presents the future opportunity for real social change through the strengths of the networks and relationships. You will be left with both opportunity and optimism for our future.
Counts, who is President and Founder of the US-based NGO, Grameen Foundation, reverently gives a comprehensive history of how Nobel Peace Prize-winner (2006), Dr. Muhammad Yunus, defied all expectations and reached out to the poor in Bangladesh in the 1970's, empowering them to be entrepeneurs. It is a warm, engaging, balanced account of the pitfalls of doing what you know is right despite everyone telling you you're crazy.
I love this book because it blends the human element with the academic, thus making micro-finance accessible to those of us who aren't trained economists. The theory behind micro-lending is so simple: empower the poor to pull themselves out of poverty and you change the world. Whatever the arguments against micro-finance are, I would venture to say this book could convert even die-hard oppositionists. Counts concedes that the system isn't perfect, but there is such accountability, and such a desire to serve its clients well, with integrity, that you're inspired to put the book down, find your nearest micro-lending institution and see how you can help further cause. I don't remember the last time I felt that way.