Sunday, October 15, 2006

Promoting Peace, a Hope at a Time

In an astonishing moment of clarity, the Nobel Peace Prize was given this year, not to the current excuse for Henry Kissinger, but to a man who understands the very basis and structure of peace.

I find that principles have no real force
except when one is well fed.
-MarkTwain (1835-1910)
Yunusnobel In an astonishing moment of clarity, the Nobel Peace Prize was given this year, not to the current excuse for Henry Kissinger, but to a man who understands the very basis and structure of peace. Muhammed Yunus had an idea some thirty years ago and reached into his pocket to prove his thesis.
Yunus told The Associated Press in 2004 that his eureka moment came while chatting to a shy Bangladeshi  woman weaving bamboo stools with calloused fingers.
Sufia Begum was a 21-year-old mother of three when he met her in 1974 and asked how much she earned. She replied that she borrowed about five taka, the equivalent of nine cents, from a middleman for the bamboo for each stool. All but two cents of that went back to the lender.
''I thought to myself, my God, for five takas she has become a slave,'' Yunus said in the interview. The following day, he and his students did a survey in the woman's village, Jobra, and discovered that 43 villagers owed a total of $27.
''I couldn't take it anymore. I put the $27 out there and told them they could liberate themselves,'' he said, and pay him back whenever they could. The idea was to buy their own materials and cut out the middleman.
Over the following year, they all paid him back--day by day.
Yunusborrower2 And thus was founded the Grameen (Rural) Bank. Other banks told Yunus he was a madman, that loaning without collateral would result in loans going bad, people walking away from their obligations. But conventional banks (and bankers) were not alone among those hostile to providing capital to the poor.
"The first hostile person to our program is the husband. We are challenging his authority," Yunus said as we walked around Kashipur, where water buffalo lumbered down dirt paths alongside women barking Bengali into the cell phones they had bought with small loans from his bank.
"In the family, he's a macho tyrant," Yunus said. "He starts to see that she's not as stupid as he thought. He says, `Now she cannot nag me about money, because she understands now how hard it is to make.' The tension eases and they become a team."
Yunusborrower Almost six billion dollars later and five million loans down the road less traveled, this amazing man and his Grameen Bank have been recognized in a forum better known than winning an Oscar. The Nobel Committee will have a tough time keeping up in future years to the inherent truths behind 2006’s choice—that the world is most changed by small experiments.
(New York Times) Yunus' notion -- today, known as microcredit -- has spread around the globe in the past three decades and is said to have helped more than 100 million people take their first steps to rise out of poverty.

Some bought diary cows, others egg-laying hens. In recent years, money for a single cell phone has been enough to start thriving enterprises in isolated villages without phone lines from East Asia to West Africa.
The Nobel Committee in their statement of the award, said from Oslo, Norway,
''Lasting peace cannot be achieved unless large population groups find ways in which to break out of poverty, 'Micro-credit is one such means. Development from below also serves to advance democracy and human rights.''
How often (if ever) do you hear of ordinary people being personally thrilled by the award?
''I can't express in words how happy I am,'' said Gulbadan Nesa, 40, who five years ago used $90 from the Grameen Bank to buy chickens so she could sell eggs. She's since taken more loans and expanded into selling building materials.
''Not long ago I was almost begging for money to feed my family,'' she said from Bishnurampur, her village in northern Bangladesh. ''Today, I've got my own house and enough money to feed my children and send them to school.''
(Washington Post) Yunus and the Grameen Bank are hardly household names outside of Bangladesh, but Yunus has been one of the world's most prominent and renowned leaders of poverty alleviation. The Grameen Bank model has been duplicated in more than 100 countries, from Uganda to Malaysia to Chicago's South Side.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recognized the bank's efforts in August, providing a $1.5 million grant to expand its work worldwide through the Grameen Foundation.
Yunusbook A gentle, soft-spoken man who has been feted by kings and presidents for his groundbreaking and tireless efforts to improve the lives of poor families, Yunus nonetheless has remained most at ease in the steamy Bangladeshi villages where the bank's clients -- mostly sari-clad women -- line up at makeshift tables to repay their loans.
Quite an interesting comparison to the World Bank, whose business is to loan money to governments, most of which supports unending poverty and a good deal of which is never repaid. The bankers who cautioned Yunus would be well enough pleased to have a repayment rate that mirrored his 99%.
The Nobel is coming of age.
Lots of comment out there in the newspapers;

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