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Microcredit - A Way Out of Poverty for China
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Microcredit finance, a loan system that is tailored for impoverished people, is poised for further development in China if the government lends more support to it, according to this year's Nobel Peace Prize winner from Bangladesh, Dr. Muhammad Yunus, who was speaking at an international conference in Beijing on Sunday.


As pioneers of the small-loans financing concept, conference organizers hoped that Yunus, also known as "the father of microcredit", and his team would be able to help China explore ways of replicating the Bangladesh success story.


Grameen Bank (Grameen), founded in 1976, was the first lender in Bangladesh and indeed the world to provide microcredit financing. Loans of small amounts are given to the poor to help them start businesses. The loans are given collateral-free and repayment is based on an honor system. Sometimes, even the money to buy a mobile phone is enough to lift a poor person out of poverty.


Grameen is also referred to as the Bank for the Poor.


Over the last 30 years, the bank has lent US$5.72 billion to more than six million Bangladeshis. Moreover, the microcredit practice has been taken to other developing countries, benefiting more than 100 million poor clients worldwide.


According to Su Guoxia, Deputy Director of the Leading Group Office for Poverty Alleviation, China has made great progress in reducing poverty over the last 20 years. The number of impoverished people has decreased from 125 million in 1985 to 23.6 million at the end of last year. However, China still has a sizeable poor population, and is in dire need of an efficient way to speed up the poverty alleviation process.


Microcredit might just be the answer.


Several institutions, mainly non-government organizations (NGOs), have been experimenting with microcredit in China for the last 10 years, and have provided assistance to about a hundred thousand people. But compared with Bangladesh that has over 30 years' experience in microcredit, China still has a long way to go.


Policies and legal restrictions, regulations and supervision, and insufficient funding are the three main obstacles to the sustainable development of microcredit, according to Du Xiaoshan, a pioneer of microfinance research and practice in China and Deputy Director of the Rural Development Institute affiliated to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.


Echoing Du' point, Yunus pointed out that policy support is one of the most important requirements for the successful operation of microcredit. In addition, the regulations and supervision system should be clear and transparent to ensure that the loans go to the right people and that the money is being put to good use. Further, it is necessary that a microcredit organization, functioning as a bank, have the permission to collect deposits as well as give out loans. If it is not allowed to accept deposits, Yunus said, there would be no source of loans, and the organization would be short-lived.


Yunus said that these problems are similar in both Bangladesh and China, difference being that the Bangladeshi government recently passed legislation governing the establishment of microcredit banks, and an independent regulation and supervision institution for the microcredit finance sector.


This represents a big breakthrough for the sector, and China could learn from Bangladesh's experience.


Prof. H I Latifee, managing director of Grameen, stressed that the Chinese government has to adopt more favorable policies to support microfinance if it's to make any significant impact in poverty reduction.


Jiao Jinpu, Deputy Director of the Research Bureau of the People's Bank of China (PBC), the country's central bank, said that there are now more than 300 NGOs in China running microcredit businesses. The central bank has been working closely with the China Banking Regulatory Commission, the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Commerce to give microfinance providers a safe legal environment within which to operate.


Yunus suggested that while the government continues to develop the industry, a central fund could be established to keep the microcredit momentum going. The fund could be run by NGOs. Such a system has also proven successful in Bangladesh.


It is released yesterday that Grameen and the central bank are discussing the possibility of opening Grameen branches in China providing a range of services including deposits, loans, and insurance and pensions.


Representatives from Chinese government, microcredit institutions and other international organizations, including the UN Development Program and World Bank attended the two-day conference.



(China.org.cn by staff reporter Xu Lin, October 24, 2006)


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