Ideas Simple Solutions
speak here about Mohammad Yunus and Fazle Hasan Abed. Their
pioneering work for rural development and emancipation of
the poor, particularly of women, will be remembered by Bangladeshis
for generations to come. The strength of their belief in the
people and their vision for them are matters of great pride
for Bangladeshis and high admiration of people abroad. It
is not for me to give an account of their many accomplishments.
These are already widely known, particularly to the millions
of beneficiaries of the Grameen Bank and the Bangladesh Rural
Advancement Committee BRAC, whose lives and prospects have
been truly changed. Perhaps as much, if not more, is known
abroad. Consequently, both Yunus and Abed have received, short
of the Nobel Prize, the highest awards and medals in Western
countries and other parts of the world. However, from the
Bangladesh government, of the two, only Yunus received the
Independence Day Award. I believe that he and Abed have not
yet received the high recognition that they surely deserve
from their own country.
my recent visit to Dhaka, I had the good fortune to meet with
both Yunus and Abed. In Dhaka's festive winter season last
year, I met Yunus in one of the functions. He was recently
inducted as a member of France's prestigious Legion d'Houneur
by President Chirac. The renowned Economist magazine
of London last year chose Yunus as the winner of its prize
for social and economic innovation, in his case for promoting
the idea of micro-credit. As I approached him, he greeted
me with his usual large grin. After exchanging pleasantries,
I expressed my feeling that whatever he touches, it turns
into gold and I wanted to know the secret. The modest person
that he is, he only listened and smiled.
enquired from Yunus what the latest brain wave was and how
did he plan to proceed in that regard. I knew that he would
not fail to respond this time, as he is a man of ideas and
brilliant but practical solutions. He told me about the recent
Grameen programme for beggars and efforts to bring them out
of that profession. Loans of 500 taka would be given to participating
beggars interest-free, with easy and flexible repayment terms.
The beggars are supposed to sell small household and consumption
articles like paan, supari, lozenges and toys door
to door and gradually earn enough to free themselves of the
need to beg for their survival.
would beggars be made willing to participate? According to
Yunus, thousands of Grameen's field workers throughout the
country have been given the task of finding and motivating
two such beggars each. That's a large number of beggars! Already
90 lakh takas have been distributed under the programme to
about 26000 beggars. Eighty of them have already left their
previous profession. Grameen first started loans without collaterals
three decades ago.
informed that the Grameen salary scale was that of the government
but there was no greater motivation than the immeasurable
satisfaction derived by the staff from helping another person.
Together with the idealism and the spirit of the leader who
had been able to set a high example of service above self
and above the worldly temptations, ambitions and trappings
of high positions.
Abed similarly at a reception in late December last year and
had the opportunity to get a fuller picture of BRAC's programme
and future plans. As students we sometimes used to meet in
1953 in Maghbazar where we both were living at the time. Abed
and I used to have optimistic discussions on our ideals and
ambitions during many evenings. Today about half-a-century
later, I would have to say that among the three of us, at
least Abed has been able to fulfill our youthful dreams of
making a real difference in the lives of our people.
I also enquired
from Abed what was the latest brain wave and what he was doing
about it. He had a quick response and this related to Tuberculosis
(TB). The plan was to encourage volunteers at the village
level to watch who was coughing for more than five days. The
volunteers, who have been supplied with collection kits, would
then collect a sample of the person's phlegm. Staff on motor
cycles from BRAC's rural clinics would regularly collect these
samples and conduct tests. If anyone is detected with TB,
medicines would be freely supplied by BRAC for about nine
months and the person would hopefully be cured. The incentive
for the village level volunteers was that for each successful
detection of a TB case, the volunteer concerned would get
a reward of 500 taka.
that two old friends of mine had set up trusts for charitable
works in Bangladesh, each one currently having assets of about
40 crore taka. When I naively asked Abed if BRAC's assets
would amount to 400 crores or more, he smiled and told me
in fact it was 2000 crores and that BRAC's annual expenditure
amounted to 1600 crore taka. Even though it is the world's
largest NGO, and receives considerable foreign assistance
every year, for a Bangladeshi non-governmental agency, these
are astounding amounts of investments for rural development.
I learnt that the World Bank's president, Wolfenson had recently
remarked to Abed that the latter presides over a bigger organisation
than the World Bank in terms of staff size. It is quite true.
in recognition of his contributions to human development in
Bangladesh, Abed received a prestigious UNDP award as the
second recipient. The first recipient of this biennial prize
in 2002 was the former president of Brazil, Fernando Cordoso.
He also received the Gates prize last year for successful
efforts to improve public health in the developing countries.
I asked Abed what he intended to do with the proceeds of the
award (equivalent to about five crore taka). He plans to set
up a first class medical and public health college to produce
fine doctors to obviate the necessity of Bangladeshis to go
abroad for treatment on the flimsiest of grounds.
Jalil, a former civil servant and a retired World Bank staff
member, writes from Washington.
(R) thedailystar.net 2004