Vol. 5 Num 849 Sat. October 14, 2006  
Front Page

Greatest social reformer of our time
Tribute to Nobel Laureate Prof Yunus

We all dream but Prof. Yunus' dream is audacious. He dreams of a world where poverty will be such a thing of the past that it will be exhibited in museums. Hyperbole? Not so for those who have read, talked or listened to him. It is simple, he says. Don't try and tell people how to solve their poverty. Give them opportunity to bring out their inner entrepreneurial creativity and they will change their own lot. Every human being wants to improve their lives. Our challenge is to let that urge bear fruit. And the way to do that is to give them loans--microcredit. Normal banks give loans only to those who have capacity to repay. That leaves out majority people of the world. That is the void that micro credit fills, and Grameen Bank experience has shown that poor people are at their innovative best when they are trusted and given money to change their own lot. They also have the best repayment record of ninety nine per cent.

More than 30 years of experience with Grameen Bank and replication of his model in over 100 countries has prompted Prof. Yunus to demand that credit should be recognised as a human right, just as important as all other fundamental rights enshrined in the UN Charter of Human Rights.

Prof. Yunus' greatest achievement is that when the whole world was mesmerised with growth and globalisation he kept his faith with the poor and kept on shouting from every platform he could get on, that take care of the most deprived and they will take of the world. In awarding him and Grameen Bank the Nobel Peace Prize the world has, hopefully, recognised Prof. Yunus' core message, the timeliness of it cannot be overemphasised.

Bangladesh today is recognised as one of the best performers in terms of social indicators among SAARC countries and among the developing countries of the world. That has been possible because of what Prof. Yunus started in the early seventies. There were several other notable contributors, especially BRAC and its founder Fazle Hasan Abed that changed the scene of rural Bangladesh. But it was Prof. Yunus' untiring zeal and exceptional organising ability that brought microcredit to the notice of the world as a serious alternative to the conventional methods of poverty eradication.

Prof. Yunus' faith in women's ability for entrepreneurship was also something quite extraordinary. With more than 95 per cent of his borrowers being women he clearly showed through example that if rural poverty is to be addressed women will have to be at the centre of all efforts. As the main anchor of the family if a woman is empowered then a mini social revolution takes place. Women of Bangladesh proved him right more than 14 million times, the number of Grameen borrowers at present.

In one of my numerous visits with him I saw what struck me to be rather peculiar. Women borrowers when they come to their weekly meetings they stand straight, look up into the eyes of others and salute. I asked why the salute. Prof. Yunus said women in our villages seldom stand erect in public and never raise their face and look into the eyes of others when they talk. I introduced the salute because it forces them to stand straight and look up those she is talking to. "Psychological and emotional impact of this small gesture is immeasurable". What an amazing insight.

People often confuse Grameen Bank to be an NGO, which he proudly negates saying it is a bank that runs on sound commercial principles. It has the same rules, perhaps even more, than other commercial banks. But where it differs - and the difference is fundamental -- it caters to those that commercial banks not only leave out but will never touch, simply because they are considered "unbankable". Prof. Yunus has proven that they are not only "bankable" but more so than many rich borrowers, and if the world has to become fairer and more just it is these so-called " unbankable" people who will do it.

His other most exceptional contribution is his tireless advocacy for adoption of modern technology in rural life. His introduction of mobile telephone for rural women, where they earn money by providing telephone service, his tireless advocacy for introducing internet services in rural areas by opening up VoIP service and introduction of solar energy in villages speak of a man who not only focuses on the poor but sets his eyes on the most modern of technologies to change their lives. Seldom has there been a better example of a man who blends the backward and the modern in such a practically workable relationship.

While he has devoted his life for the emancipation of the poor, he has never advocated charity. The freshness of his ideas come from a total adherence to commercial principles in serving the poor. Business, he says does not have to run on "profit motive" only but can also run on a motive to improve peoples' welfare. He believes that there can be a very happy marriage between commercial principles of capitalism and basic urge of human being to be associated with social good. Thus he advocates for a new business ethos that will give birth to socially oriented business enterprises.

A fact that needs to be specially mentioned today is that Prof. Yunus was a very active freedom fighter. Early on he gave up his job and joined others in the US to launch a most effective advocacy to gain support to our independence movement in the US. Those who worked with him remember him with admiration his commitment, tireless zeal and effectiveness as an organiser to gather support for our independence.

A very humble man in personal life Prof. Yunus is always accessible and meets whoever wants to see him, time permitting. One of his biggest qualities is his ability to inspire people. In Prof. Yunus' hands microcredit has become far bigger than a method of fighting poverty. It has become a way of restoring faith and dignity to the people, especially the poor and the oppressed. He is a great "energizer", invigorating people especially those who feel frustrated with all the negatives that are happening all around. He is always full of ideas to do things and loves to meet people who have new things to tell him. Being a visionary he always has implementation high in his mind. He has no time for an idea that cannot be implemented. He moves about in an office microbus, works out of non-air conditioned office sitting on a wooden chair behind a very ordinary rectangular table. His only "luxury" is shelves full of books that line his office walls. He is computer savvy and answers his own emails promptly. Always smiling and full of life, he has a great sense of humour.

In celebrating Prof.Yunus' Nobel Peace Prize let us emulate the greatest social reformer of our time in renewing our faith in the people of Bangladesh and give them the respect that we deny them all the time and inculcate a bit of humility so that we can serve our nation better.