The Nobel Prize for Peace, in a stunning disregard of recent tradition, was awarded to deserving recipients: Grameen Bank and its founder Muhammad Yunus, pioneers in the field of micro-credit.
The Grameen (“Rural”) Bank was founded in Bangladesh in 1976 with seed money of $27. Today the bank has over six million borrowers. It works like this:
The Grameen Bank is based on the voluntary formation of small groups of five people to provide mutual, morally binding group guarantees in lieu of the collateral required by conventional banks. At first only two members of a group are allowed to apply for a loan. Depending on their performance in repayment the next two borrowers can then apply and, subsequently, the fifth member as well.
The assumption is that if individual borrowers are given access to credit, they will be able to identify and engage in viable income-generating activities — simple processing such as paddy husking, lime-making, manufacturing such as pottery, weaving, and garment sewing, storage and marketing and transport services. Women were initially given equal access to the schemes, and proved not only reliable borrowers but astute enterpreneurs. As a result, they have raised their status, lessened their dependency on their husbands and improved their homes and the nutritional standards of their children. Today over 90 percent of borrowers are women.
Says Mr Yunus:
Grameen believes that the poverty is not created by the poor, it is created by the institutions and policies which surround them. In order to eliminate poverty all we need to do is to make appropriate changes in the institutions and policies, and/or create new ones. Grameen believes that charity is not an answer to poverty. It only helps poverty to continue. It creates dependency and takes away individual’s initiative to break through the wall of poverty. Unleashing of energy and creativity in each human being is the answer to poverty.
Grameen brought credit to the poor, women, the illiterate, the people who pleaded that they did not know how to invest money and earn an income. Grameen created a methodology and an institution around the financial needs of the poor, and created access to credit on reasonable term enabling the poor to build on their existing skill to earn a better income in each cycle of loans.
(Previous discussion here.)
I normally don’t call attention to Nobel laureates — they always get plenty of press — but in an era when you’re expecting the Peace prize to go jointly to, say, Madeleine Albright and Spalding, it’s a pleasure to report that the awards committee didn’t screw up this time.