Muhammad Yunus is known as the father of modern microfinance. His professional accomplishments include serving as the head of the economics department of Chittagong University, founding Grameen Bank, co-founding the Microcredit Summit Campaign, and most notably, winning the 2006 Nobel Peace Price. He is also the author of Banker to the Poor.
What follows is Yunus’ thoughts on the power of microfinance and it’s ability to make poverty a remnant of the past:
“I was not trained to understand self-help. I was trained, like all students of economics, to believe that all people, as they grow, should prepare themselves to get jobs at the job market. If you fail to get a job, you register yourself for government charity. But I could not hold on to these beliefs when I faced the real life of the poor people in Bangladesh. For most of them [the] job market did not mean much. For survival they turned to economic activities on their own. But the economic institutions and policies did not take notice of their struggle. They were rejected by the formal systems for no fault of their own….
I was shocked to see how poor people suffered because they could not come up with small amount of working capital–[the] amount they needed was less than a dollar per person. Some of them could obtain the money only against extremely unfair terms. They were required to sell the goods to the lender at the price set arbitrarily by him….
We create institutions and policies on the basis of the way we make assumptions about us and others. We accept the fact that we will always have poor people around us. So we have had poor people around us. If we had believed that poverty is unacceptable to us, and that it should not belong to a civilized society, we would have created appropriate institutions and policies to create a poverty-free world. We wanted to go to the moon–so we went there. We wanted to communicate with each other very fast-so we bring appropriate changes in the communication technology. We achieve what we want to achieve. If we are not achieving something, my first suspicion will fall on the intensity of our desire to achieve it.
I strongly believe that we can create a poverty-free world, if we want to…. In that kind of world, [the] only place you can see poverty is in the museum. When school children will be on a tour of the poverty museum, they will be horrified to see the misery and indignity of human beings. They will blame their forefathers for tolerating this inhuman condition to continue in a massive way….
Grameen has taught me two things: first our knowledge base about people and their interactions is still very inadequate; second, each individual person is very important. Each person has tremendous potential. She alone can influence the lives of others within communities, nations-within and beyond her own time. Each of us has much more hidden inside of us than what we have had a chance to explore so far. Unless we create [an] enabling environment to discover the limits of our potential–we will never know what we have inside of us. Grameen has given me a faith, an unshakable faith in the creativity of human beings. That leads me to believe that human beings are not born to suffer the misery of hunger and poverty. They suffer now and did in the past because we turn our mind away from the issue.”
Yunus remains an example to us all on the power of leveraging microfinance, microlending and even payday loan relief programs to help the world out of poverty. For more inspiration, watch this interview of Yunus.