Banker to the poor. Founder of the world’s largest and most effective microcredit institutions, bringing the opportunity and the right to succeed to those who need it most.
Featured lessonCombating Poverty
Muhammad Yunus was born in 1940 in the seaport city of Chittagong, Bangladesh—British India, at the time. After attending Dhaka University, he earned a Fulbright scholarship to study economics at Vanderbilt University and received his Ph.D. in economics there in 1969. Returning to Bangladesh, Yunus headed the economics department at Chittagong University, where he was struck by the discrepancy between the economic theory taught in universities and the abject poverty around him.
When Bangladesh, already one of the poorest places on earth, suffered a famine in 1974, Yunus wanted to do more for those suffering around him. He decided to give collateral-free loans to landless rural peasants and impoverished women who wanted to start their own small enterprises. In his eyes, poverty means being deprived of all human value, and microcredit can serve as an effective way of emerging from poverty. Even small personal loans to local basket weavers could ultimately make a difference.
This belief, that credit is a fundamental human right, was realized on a larger scale through Grameen Bank, which Yunus established in Bangladesh in 1983. His objective was to help poor people escape from poverty by providing loans on terms suitable to them and by teaching them a few sound financial principles so that they could help themselves. If financial resources can be made available to poor people on terms and conditions that are appropriate and reasonable, millions of people with their millions of small pursuits can add up to a developmental wonder.
Over the years, the Grameen Bank has advanced to the forefront of a global movement aimed at eradicating poverty through microlending, and replicas of its model operate in more than 100 countries worldwide. As of January 2021, it has 9.38 million members, 97 percent of whom are women. With 2,568 branches, Grameen Bank provides services in 81,678 villages, covering more than 93 percent of the total villages in Bangladesh.
In addition to his work with Grameen, from 1993 to 1995, Yunus was a member of the International Advisory Group for the Fourth World Conference on Women. He has served on the Global Commission of Women’s Health, the Advisory Council for Sustainable Economic
Development, and the U.N. Expert Group on Women and Finance.
Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2006 for their efforts to “create economic and social development from below.” Yunus’ long-term vision is to eliminate poverty in the world, a vision that will take a range of efforts to realize. But, as his work has shown, microcredit can play a vital part.
“As women become empowered, they look at themselves and at what they can do. They are making economic progress and, alongside that, making decisions about their personal lives.”
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