Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Believing in the Power to Change the World

I recently finished reading "Creating a World Without Poverty" by Muhammad Yunus. Yunus and Grameen Bank received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for their revolutionary work in addressing the issue of poverty in Bangladesh.

It started very simply. Yunus was an economics professor at Chittagong University. But when faced with the very real poverty in nearby villages such as Jobra, his theories seemed like the leisure play of the well-off, doing nothing to address what was really plaguing his fellow countrymen.

He noticed one woman making beautiful bamboo chairs. Talking to her, he found that although she worked long, hard hours, and made beautiful products that were in demand, she was not able to adequately provide for her family. The reason? She had initially bought her supplies using a small loan from a usurious money-lender, and he required that he sell all of her products back to him as repayment, at a fraction of their worth. She could never get out of debt.

Yunus asked around, and discovered that 42 people in the village were in bondage to this same money lender. And how much money would set them free? A mere $27 - in total. Yunus loaned the money to the people, from his own wallet, a few dollars to each of them, and told them they could pay it back at low interest. Every single one of them paid back the loan, got their family out of debt, and was able to launch a successful family business.

This is the radical concept Yunus came up with - the idea of "micro-loans" - small loans with no collateral required. After his initial success, he tried to get a bank to support the idea. But no one believed in him. It was crazy. It went against all common sense. In the end, Yunus had to start his own bank. He called it Grameen Bank, which means Village Bank. That bank has proven wildly successful, with a 97 percent return rate on loan repayment (much higher than normal banks). It is owned by the poor themselves, and 97 percent of those owners are women, because Yunus saw that empowering women brought the greatest good to poor families.

Grameen Bank has gone far beyond micro-loans, branching out into housing, scholarships for students, medical care programs, and more.

All of this because one man walked into a village in his country and said, "I believe in the power to change this."

May I have the courage to feel that belief on a daily basis as well.

1 comment:

  1. point being: don't think you can't make a difference. if my memory wasn't so bad, I could tell you a dozen stories about one person changing the world for the better for someone else zt