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Banker to the Poor

Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty

by Muhammad Yunus

Banker to the Poor by Muhammad Yunus X
Banker to the Poor by Muhammad Yunus
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  • First Published:
    Jun 1999, 258 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2003, 288 pages

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The autobiography of the world-renowned, visionary economist who came up with a simple but revolutionary solution to end world poverty: micro-credit

From the book jacket: In 1983 Muhammad Yunus established Grameen, a bank devoted to providing the poorest of Bangladesh with miniscule loans. He aimed to help the poor by supporting the spark of personal initiative and enterprise by which they could lift themselves out of poverty forever. It was an idea born on a day in 1976 when he loaned $27 from his own pocket to forty-two people living in a tiny village. They were stool makers who only needed enough credit to purchase the raw materials for their trade. Yunus's loan helped them break the cycle of poverty and changed their lives forever. His solution to world poverty, founded on the belief that credit is a fundamental human right, is brilliantly simple: loan poor people money on terms that are suitable to them, teach them a few sound financial principles, and they will help themselves.

The Grameen Bank and its founder, Muhammed Yunus, were jointly awarded the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, which adds to the numerous other awards he, and the Bank, have received over the years.

Comment: If most of us were asked to name the person most famous for helping the poor people of the Indian subcontinent, we would probably reply Mahatma Gandhi;  but I suspect that if you walked into many a village in Bangladesh today and asked the same question, the answer would be Muhammed Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank. 

The Grameen Bank's loaning system is based on groups of five people who 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.  

This simple formula, supported by the 16 decisions that borrowers must agree to before taking a loan (see sidebar) have overturned many former assumptions, such as:

  1. That poor people would not repay their debts.  97% of Grameen bank loans are repayed.
  2. That poor rural women in particular were not bankable.  As of May 2006, 97% of Grameen Bank loans are to women.
  3. That poor people cannot save.  The Grameen Bank's group savings program has been as successful as its group lending program.
  4. That rural power structures would cause the bank to fail. The Bank has expanded rapidly - from less than 15,000 borrowers in 1980 to over 6 million borrowers today.

Research has indicated that the average household income of Grameen Bank members is about 50% higher than the target group in a village that has not been offered loans by Grameen, and about 25% higher than non-members living in Grameen Bank villages.  This has resulted in a sharp reduction in the number of Grameen Bank members living below the poverty line: 20% compared to 56% for comparable non-Grameen Bank members. There has also been a shift from agricultural wage labor (considered to be socially inferior) to self-employment, which has had a positive effect on the employment and wages of the remaining agricultural waged laborers. In other words what started as a local initiative has grown to the point where it has made an impact on poverty at the national level.

Muhammad Yunus was born in 1940 in Chittagong, a seaport in Bangladesh. The third of fourteen children, five of whom died in infancy, he was educated at Dhaka University and was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to study economics at Vanderbilt University. In 1972 he became the head of the economics department at Chittagong University. He is the founder and managing director of the Grameen Bank. For more information read his autobiography, Banker to The Poor, starting with the excerpt below, exclusively at BookBrowse!

This review is from the Banker to the Poor. It first ran in the November 12, 2006 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

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