Discrediting Microcredit

The attacks on Muhammad Yunus and the micro-credit movement continue to pick up speed.


Yunus, who founded Grameen Bank thirty-four years ago, pioneered the practice of lending small amounts to impoverished people, mostly women. Literally millions of people have transformed their prospects and their lives through micro-lending.


I heard Mr. Yunus speak in San Francisco a few years ago. He described the genesis of his own personal transformation as an encounter with a woman making baskets in a public square. A conversation ensued.


Yunus discovered that the woman was obliged to borrow the money required to make baskets from the man who sold her the raw materials at a high premium. It was the only way she could finance her trade, and as the only wage earner, take care of her family.


An economist by training, Mr. Yunus had a flash of insight. He realized that by making a small loan, he could assist the basket-maker in bettering her business condition and her life at the same time. Grameen Bank was born.


The Bank's mission is:


• extend banking facilities to poor men and women;


• eliminate the exploitation of the poor by money lenders;


• create opportunities for self-employment for the vast multitude of unemployed people in rural Bangladesh;


• bring the disadvantaged, mostly the women from the poorest households, within the fold of an organizational format which they can understand and manage by themselves;


• and reverse the age-old vicious circle of "low income, low saving & low investment", into virtuous circle of "low income, injection of credit, investment, more income, more savings, more investment, more income".


The practice of micro-lending has been a huge contribution to development in Pakistan and abroad. In 2006, Mr. Yunus and Grameen won the Nobel Peace Prize. In it's citation, the Nobel Committee said:


"Micro-credit has proved to be an important liberating force in societies where women in particular have to struggle against repressive social and economic conditions. 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."


The bank has 8.3 million borrowers and loans of approximately $10 billion dollars. Over 90 per cent of Grameen is owned by it's borrowers. Unlike some other micro-financing institiutions, Grammeen has never charged exhorbitant interest rates, nor have they been aggressive in collections. As well, they have enjoyed enviable repayment rates.


Today, Mr. Yunus finds himself facing accusations about the activities of one of his nonprofits and defamation charges by political rivals. The New York Times suggests that the charges against Mr. Yunus are seen as "frivolous" and are politically motivated attacks.


Reporter Lydia Polgreen, writing in today's paper, quotes Mahfuz Anam, editor of The Daily Star, a leading English-language newspaper:


"This man has done so much for the country. He does not deserve to be treated this way because of dirty politics."


Muhammad Yunus has been more than a friend to the poor. He has been a liberating force in the fight against global poverty. He deserves much, much better.


© Patrick O’Neill 2011. All rights reserved.

Posted on January 29, 2011 and filed under Uncategorized.