The speaker at the meeting was Muhammad Yunus, a founding board member of the Grameen Foundation and Grameen Bank of Bangladesh, which revolutionized banking in developing countries. The Grameen model lends small amounts of capital to the poorest of the poor, women, without collateral to start small businesses. He reported they had given loans to 130 million people since the late 1980’s, of those 80 million were to their target market. They have a 97% repayment rate. The women are required to form support groups, limit the number of children they have and those children need to go to school. If the children complete their primary education, the Grameen Foundation will pay all of their tuition and expenses to go to college or university.
Banks around the world now use the Grameen model. There were two interesting points Yunus made, which are worth repeating. He said where ever he goes people talk about managing the environment. He responds by saying the environment will take care of itself. What we need to do is manage people. We have created such environmental havoc in the world, it may require some human intervention to heal. For the most part, if left to its own devices, the environment can and will heal itself. The challenge is to minimize human impact, which is a much more complicated challenge.
The other point he made was the only way to solve global issues was at a local level. Certainly, Grameen has found a way to do this. They go into the poorest villages and by helping women start small cottage industries are able to turn around the economic well-being for the whole community.
I am one of these people who fancies herself flying off to all corners of the world to help others, when I should be asking myself, “What can I do here at home to make a difference?” Every one of us should be asking that question on a continual basis.