Professor Muhammad Yunus began his Grameen Bank Project in Jobra, a village near Chittagong University, his then workstation, in the port city in 1976 in an effort to reverse conventional banking practice and take financial services to the deprived.
His first project was lending his own money to the destitute basket-weavers. The idea devised following a visit to the village in 1974 where he found a group of women who were heavily dependent on local loan sharks for a tiny amount of money — so tiny that the developed world would laugh at — at 10 percent interest rates per week.
This struck him at his heart, paving the way for creating one of the most-talked-about modern economic theories, microcredit.
In October 1983, the government promulgated the Grameen Bank Ordinance to transform the project into an independent bank and help it become the world’s first microfinance lender.
Third of his parents’ 13 children, Yunus was born to a well-to-do family in Chittagong in 1940. His father was a successful goldsmith, but his biggest influence was his mother, Sofia Khatun, who always helped any poor person who knocked on the doors.
Today, Grameen has 2,564 branches with 19,800 staffs serving 82.9 lakh borrowers in 81,367 villages.
On any working day Grameen collects an average of $15 lakh in weekly instalments. Of the borrowers, 97 percent are women and over 97 percent of the loans are paid back, a recovery rate higher than any other banking system.
Known as the “banker to the poor”, Yunus earned global fame in 2006 when he and the Grameen Bank that he founded were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to create economic and social development from below.
Yunus started his professional career as a lecturer of economics at Chittagong College in 1962. From 1969 to 1972, he was an assistant professor of economics at MTSU, Tennessee, USA.
In 1972, he joined the Planning Commission. He also joined Chittagong University as the head of the Department of Economics the same year.
A Fulbright Fellow, Yunus became a professor of the university’s Rural Economics Programme in 1975, the year when the idea to change economic life of the poor through tiny loan struck him.
When the government gave legal shape to Grameen Bank, he became its managing director, a duty he has since continued.
Yunus also worked for the caretaker government in 1996, helping hold one of the less controversial elections in the country’s history.
He released his autobiography “Banker to the Poor: Microlending and the Battle Against World Poverty” in 2007 and previously sat on the global “Elders” committee of international leaders set up by Nelson Mandela.
Grameen methods are applied in projects in 58 countries, including the US, Canada, France, the Netherlands and Norway.
Courtesy of The Daily Star