Muhammad Yunus and his Legacy on Poverty
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!
Grameen Bank has become a model for other countries including our own. In 2002, Grameen helped Hilary Clinton introduce micro-credit to some of the poorest communities in Arkansas.
If you are moved to provide your own micro-credit loans, Kiva.org ( featured on Oprah ) is a website where you can pick a specific entrepreneur in the developing world to lend money and empower them to lift themselves out of poverty. For only $25, you can help Grace in Tanzania finish raising the $2175 needed to expand her grocery store business by opening a food kiosk. You have the opportunity to get reports on the progress and to hear directly from the people you loan money to how the project is progressing.
Another option on our own homefront is Prosper.com. People-to-people lending at it’s finest, people who need money request it and if you have a bit of money to lend, you along with other lenders bid down the borrowers rate and lend at a rate you think is fair. Propser does all the work to make sure everything is safe, fair and easy for you.
Yunus’s closing point was that poverty has nothing to do with the poor, it is caused by a system that creates failure for a large segment of people. Social business, or social entrepreneurism, allows people to take pleasure in helping others while also having the ability to make money. I thnk it’s a viable model for the future.
Stefani Twyford is a personal historian and video biographer sharing life stories, connecting generations and preserving legacies. To learn more, visit her web site, find her on Twitter as @stefanitwyford, visit the Legacy Multimedia Facebook Fan Page, or send her an e-mail.