Bangladeshi Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus on Friday
called the award "great news" for his homeland, where his
microcredit finance programs have helped improve the lives of
millions of poor people.
"I am so happy, it's really great news for the whole nation,"
Yunus said when reached by telephone at his Dhaka home shortly
after the prize was announced.
Yunus and his Grameen Bank won the award for advancing economic
and social opportunities for the poor, especially women, through
their pioneering microcredit work. The 65-year-old is the first
Noble Prize winner from Bangladesh, a poverty-stricken nation of
about 141 million people located on the Bay on Bengal.
One of his aides, Dipal Barua, said the award was an "honor for
millions of poor women who have made this possible, it's a great
achievement. It's a marvelous recognition."
Yunus' Grameen Bank was the first lender to hand out
microcredit, giving very small loans to poor Bangladeshis who did
not qualify for loans from conventional banks. No collateral is
needed and repayment is based on an honor system.
Anyone can qualify for a loan the average is about US$200 but
recipients are put in groups of five and once two members of the
group have borrowed money, the other three must wait for the funds
to be repaid before they get a loan.
Grameen, which means rural in the Bengali language, says the
method encourages social responsibility. The results are hard to
argue with the bank says it has a 99 per cent repayment rate.
Since Yunus gave out his first loans in 1974, microcredit
schemes have spread throughout the developing world and are now
considered a key approach to alleviating poverty and spurring
Yunus said in a 2004 interview that his "eureka moment" came
while chatting to a shy woman weaving bamboo stools with calloused
Sufia Begum was a 21-year-old villager and a mother of three
when the economics professor met her in 1974 and asked her how much
she earned. She replied that she borrowed 5 taka (9 US cents) from
a middleman for the bamboo for each stool.
All but 2 US 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.
"I couldn't understand how she could be so poor when she was
making such beautiful things," he said.
The following day, he and his students did a survey in the
woman's village, Jobra, and discovered that 43 of the villagers
owed a total of 856 taka (about US$27).
"I couldn't take it anymore. I put the US$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.
They all paid him back, day by day, over a year, and his
momentary generosity grew into a full-fledged concept that came to
fruition with the founding of Grameen Bank in 1983.
In the years since, the bank says it has loaned 290.03 billion
taka (US$5.72 billion) to more than 6 million Bangladeshis.
Worldwide, microcredit financing is estimated to have helped
some 17 million people.
(China Daily October 14, 2006)