by Stella Ramsaroop
(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 17 October 2006)
The 2006 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Bangladeshi Muhammad Yunus and his Grameen Bank for pioneering a new concept called mircrocredit, which advances small sums of money to people, most of whom would never be taken seriously by other banks, so they can create a decent living for themselves.
It all started in 1976 when Yunus himself gave 42 village women a total of US$27 to buy some weaving stools. The women got their stools, started to weave quickly and repaid him quickly. He continued to offer small loans like this with a focus on helping women with credit since most banks shy away from women as much as they do the poor.
Yunus’ generosity and vision advanced both economic and social opportunities for the poor in Bangladesh and according to a recent CNN article, the Grameen Bank has loaned over 290 billion taka (US$5.72 billion) to more than 6 million Bangladeshis with loans averaging about $200 each, which typically goes toward buying a cow to start a dairy or chickens for an egg farm.
One would think that the Grameen Bank would have a difficult time recovering its loans since they are dealing primarily with poor people. This could not be further from the truth. In fact, CNN’s article stated that the bank “recovers nearly 99 percent of its loans even though borrowers need put up no collateral.”
For the poorest borrowers and the beggars, Grameen gives interest-free loans. Yunus said, “Why should financial services be denied to the poor? Why should information technology be the exclusive privilege of rich people? Why can't we design things for poor people?”
If you ask me, Muhammad Yunus is well deserving of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. In a world of greed and power-lust, he has risen high above all other entrepreneurs and succeeded in bridging the ever-growing gap between the rich and the poor.
Moreover, Yunus and his bank have found an ingenious way to ease the poverty rate in Bangladesh with their microfinancing. Guyana needs a man like Muhammad Yunus. If the microcredit concept can work in Bangladesh with a population of over 144 million, imagine the impact it can have on Guyana with a population well under 1 million.
The notion of giving the poor a chance to help themselves by starting a small business is not new, but it often just talked about and actual implementation is seldom realised. Yunus has provided the world with proof that if the poor are afforded the dignity of credit, they too can work wonders.
He told Reuters, “Leave it to the people. They can take care of themselves. You don't have to shed tears for them. They are very capable.” I agree. All they need is someone who will believe in them enough to invest in their lives.
Once people feel they have a financial stake in a community, no matter how small it may be, they often tend to become more involved in the political and social aspects of society as well. In Bangladesh, this meant that the women started playing a more visible role in the community as a whole.
The Nobel Peace Prize Committee noted, “economic growth and political democracy can not achieve their full potential unless the female half of humanity participates on an equal footing with the male.” Grameen Bank said 97 percent of its borrowers are now women, and that it provides services in more than 70,000 villages in Bangladesh.
Yunus and his bank have transformed Bangladesh and their microcredit concept is now spreading quickly throughout the world. I would love to see the women of Guyana afforded the same opportunities for advancement that the women of Bangladesh have been given.
Too often it seems that unless a person is from a certain race, or is a certain gender, or in Guyana, is loyal to a certain party, the opportunity for advancement is stifled. It is nice to see someone like Yunus hit the international stage and make a valiant attempt to level the playing field.
In closing, I want to echo the words of Muhammad Yunus after learning he was being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, “I don't care if the rich get rich. It doesn't bother me. They should get richer. I'm worried about the poor getting poorer and not getting richer. If there are several Bill Gates in the country, I don't care. Lifting the bottom of society is the most important.”