19 July 2011
Professor Muhammad Yunus
Following the resignation of Professor Yunus from Grameen Bank in March 2011, there has been much speculation concerning how the Bank will be managed by the Bangladeshi Government. Professor Yunus himself is naturally concerned as to what will happen to its 8.1 million borrowers who are mainly women, and also to the future of the Grameen Bank itself.
In an exclusive interview with the Bangladesh English-language Daily Star newspaper in May 2011, Professor Yunus discussed the misconceptions about Grameen Bank and his own future. He said that Grameen Bank is “not an NGO (Non-Governmental Organisation) because it is a commercial organisation. It has owners and all the features of a business. Grameen Bank is a special organisation, not just another bank.” Professor Yunus was keen to let everyone know how protective he is of Grameen Bank and that it is simply not just another bank from which people can borrow money. Grameen Bank is seen by its borrowers as a self empowerment institution in Bangladesh. The majority of the borrowers are women who have used their loans to start their own business, send their children to school and support their families. The bank aims to help its clients escape poverty by aiding self sufficiency so that the next generation is ready to have opportunities that their parents never had.
Professor Yunus was disappointed that the Government Review Committee (set up to recommend a new structure for the Bank by the government of Bangladesh) did not speak to the staff at Grameen Bank or visit some of its borrowers to see first hand how the Bank is run, particularly as this is an institution whose board members include women who are themselves borrowers as well as distinguished members such as Mr Tabarak Hossain, a former Foreign Secretary of the Bangladeshi Government. Professor Yunus was also upset with the Review Committee’s comments that the board was made up of illiterate women. This is not the case, as there are rigorous requirements that must be fulfilled in order for members to be elected onto the board. The women may not have degrees but as Professor Yunus stated:
“They bring the reality of life, and the ground realities are reflected in the board. Sitting face to face with them, the tone and the attention level of the seasoned secretaries change. Every time we meet, we talk about how their life is, how the centre is doing, any important news from their centre and how the beggars in their centre, who are also the borrowers, are doing.”
Professor Yunus went onto to clarify some of the other misunderstandings about the bank, such as that it is funded by international donors. According to Professor Yunus, this is not the case, as the last donation it received was in 1995. The Bank is self-reliant and purely run on the deposits of borrowers. Lastly, the biggest misconception is that Grameen Bank has the highest interest rate of a microfinance institution. This has been proven wrong and accepted by the Government Review Committee.
The Bank is going through a challenging transition period at the moment, with Professor Yunus “handing the bank to the Bangladeshi Government” in the words of The Daily Star. Professor Yunus is hoping that the Government will let the board have the power to make decisions and also that the Government will seek control the Bank as it has been successful in running itself. What also makes the Bank exciting is that it is now dealing with the second generation of borrowers who are very different from their parents and are more proactive in changing their lives. For example, special loans are provided to the daughters of borrowers to enable them to attend the Grameen Caledonian College of Nursing.
Professor Yunus is still positive about his future outside Grameen Bank and helping the poor, as he sees the younger generation and education as the way forward for social business. Many of the children of Grameen Bank members have opportunities to make their economic situations better: “This generation of young people is very different from ours. They have technology, internet access and are connected with thousands or even millions of others. If they can use the technology, they will be able to change the world much faster than we can imagine.”
Social Business is a concept that Professor Yunus has been trying to instil in everyone’s minds and he believes that it can change the economy and society. Universities all over the world are encouraging social business as either part of a course, or the work they do for their community and students. GCU is a prime example through its Yunus Centre for Social Business & Health, led by Professor Cam Donaldson.
When asked what he will be doing next now that he has stepped down from Grameen Bank, Professor Yunus said: “My mission will be to concentrate on [social business] and make young people think big and get involved, rather than feel frustrated and withdrawn. I believe the young generation will transform the world in a fundamental way.”
Meanwhile the model of microcredit pioneered by the Grameen Bank now operates in 38 countries around the world. Their operations should be unaffected by the developments under way in Bangladesh. Efforts to facilitate the establishment of a Grameen model of micro credit in the UK continue.
To see the full interview with Professor Yunus with The Daily Star newspaper in Bangladesh, please click here