The finance crisis has exposed the weaknesses of the global financial system. Economists are thinking about solutions and alternatives. Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus, a pioneer of microcredit, has proven that it is possible to develop economically viable models which can contribute to the fight against poverty. The eminent economist recently recalled the beginnings at a conference about the future in Berlin.
Mohammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank
The world’s financial system is at a crossroads. Many are advocating that the crucial question should not be how to maximize profits but how to solve the problems of the world together to avoid going under together.
Experts are calling for more initiatives such as those put forward by peace laureate Muhammad Yunus.
Alongside his flagship Grameen Bank, Yunus has set up many social projects to help the poor.
Eradicating night blindness
“When we started our bank, we went from house to house talking to the women and we saw their children and one strange thing,” he recalled in Berlin.
“Very frequently we saw that the children were suffering from one particular disease -- night blindness. They could not see after sunset. The doctors told me this was a disease which happens if the child has vitamin A deficiencies.”
UNICEF had offered to give Yunus vitamin A tablets for free but he did not want to depend on free medicine which might later be taken away.
So he looked for an economically viable solution: “We would start selling vegetable seeds to the borrowers of the Grameen Bank and encourage them to grow vegetables and eat and feed the children.”
“’If there is any surplus left’, we said, ‘then you can sell it.’ Our borrowers liked the idea because we had beautiful seeds. Every package was one penny. Once they started growing them, they loved it.”
The sale of vegetable seeds also brought economic success. But what is most important to Yunus is that night blindness was eradicated in the whole of Bangladesh.
Grameenphone leads Bangladesh’s mobile phone market
Since then, Yunus has set up several successful projects and has become the leader on Bangladesh’s mobile phone market with Grameenphone.
He says that government officials were sceptical at first about his idea to sell credits to the poor so they could buy phones. They wondered why the poor would need phones, whom they would call and how they would dial the numbers.
Not expecting such questions, Yunus remembers he told them that “if pushing these numbers brings money, they will learn how to do it in ten minutes -- they are poor but they are not dumb.”
In the end, even Yunus was amazed how fast illiterate women picked up the modern technology.
Never undermine capacity of other people
300,000 women in Bangladesh’s villages now earn a living from facilitating telephone calls and once Yunus invited 30 of them to gather in one village.
“Everybody was so enthusiastic and talking about their new businesses. While we were talking, their phones were still ringing. Everyone was saying ‘you have to wait we are in a meeting’. And I suddenly remembered the dialogue with the government official.”
So he asked them if they had any problems pushing the numbers: “One woman stood up and said ‘Give the number to me and blindfold me -- if I cannot dial the number correctly, I will hand the phone over to you’.
“Then I wished that the government officials were present to see how easy it is for us to undermine the capacity of other people,” Yunus remembers.
Many experts believe that worldwide poverty and mass unemployment can be fought if more people put their faith in the “capacity of other people” and join together to promote social business over greed and profit.