Muhammad Yunus: Ending Global Poverty

Muhammad Yunus, Founder and Managing Director, Grameen Bank; 2006 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate; Ambassador for the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS

Imagine a bank that loans money based on a borrower's desperate circumstances -- where, as Muhammad Yunus says, "the less you have, the higher priority you have." Turning banking convention on its head has accomplished a world of good for millions of impoverished Bangladeshis, as the pioneering economist Yunus has demonstrated in the last three decades. What began as a modest academic experiment has become a personal crusade to end poverty. Yunus reminds us that for two-thirds of the world's population, "financial institutions do not exist." Yet, "we've created a world which goes around with money. If you don't have the first dollar, you can't catch the next dollar." It was Yunus' notion, in the face of harsh skepticism, to give the poorest of the poor their first dollar so they could become self-supporting. "We're not talking about people who don't know what to do with their lives '.They're as good, enterprising, as smart as anybody else." His Grameen Bank spread from village to village as a lender of tiny amounts of money (microcredit), primarily to women. Yunus heard that "all women can do is raise chickens, or cows or make baskets. I said, 'Don't underestimate the talent of human beings.' " No collateral is required, nor paperwork just an effort to make good and pay back the loan. Now the bank boasts 5 million borrowers, receiving half a billion dollars a year. It has branched out into student loans, health care coverage, and into other countries. Grameen has even created a mobile phone company to bring cell phones to Bangladeshi villages. Yunus envisions microcredit building a society where even poor people can open "the gift they have inside of them."

About the Speaker(s): Muhammad Yunus made his first loan of $27 to a group of 42 Bangladeshi village women, to help free them from debt to moneylenders and allow them to build their furniture business. He established the Grameen Bank in 1983 to help millions of Bangladeshis escape from poverty. The bank now has branches in more than 36 thousand Bangladeshi villages and in other countries.

Yunus, a Fulbright Scholar, earned a Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University in 1969. Yunus has received the Ramon Magsaysay Award (1984) from Manila; the Aga Khan Award for Architecture (1989) from Geneva; the Mohamed Shabdeen Award for Science (1993) from Sri Lanka; and the World Food Prize by World Food Prize Foundation (1994) from the US. His autobiography, Banker to the Poor, was published in 1998.

Host(s): School of Humanities, Arts & Social Sciences, Poverty Action Lab

Event date: 09/14/2005

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