As a person who wishes to contribute something to the world in her small ways, I’m always on the lookout for a good cause to support. I heard of Muhammad Yunus many years ago from a friend who shared about a website called Kiva, in which upon a quick browse I first heard about micro-lending. I knew roughly what it was about but never got around to read about it.
Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank (the micro-finance bank he built) won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, and since then he came to my attention over and over again, though only until a few weeks ago I managed to set a time to read his autobiography, in which he tells you everything about micro-lending and the battle against world poverty.
Poverty is a subject that is close to me, having been born and lived most of my life in third world country, where poverty is not a problem in the other part of the world, but very real, very close, that I saw every single day. But as life would have it, I’m not someone who works in vital sectors, like doctors, economists, lawyers, teachers, or politicians. I work in entertainment industry. So I guess learning about problems of the world and contributing a small portion of my earning would be as far as I can go. Anyway, that’s food for thought for another day.
Muhammad Yunus though, was exactly in the perfect position to make a difference. He’s a Bangladeshi from a well-off family, had a chance to study in US, and became a professor of a respectable University in Bangladesh. He’s highly intelligent, has very strong concern for humanity, and is well connected because of his position and upbringing. And boy did he make a difference.
The idea was born one day in 1976 when he loaned $27 from his own pocket to 42 people living in a tiny village. By lending the small amount of money, they were able to buy raw materials for their trades. What he found later on was that the poor only needs to be given a chance to lift themselves out of the death circle of poverty. By lending a small amount of money and encouraging them to be micro-entrepreneurs, they are able to help themselves. These people have managed to live with such minimum resources. Imagine what they can do given even the smallest window of opportunity. The possibility is limitless.
When you hear a success story of somebody, you often forget that there’s an enormous amount of time and energy to get them to where they are. When I heard Muhammad Yunus winning the Nobel Prize, I imagined a smart professor solving world problems with his almighty brains. But I did not imagine the little things he had to go through physically: going to house after house in a small village, day after day trying to gain the villagers’ trust, to convince them to borrow money and give it a go, rain or shine, literally. There was an occasion when it was downpour raining and he had to wait outside because it was against the custom for a non-relative male to be in the house without the men of the family. So the women lent him an umbrella while he was sitting at the gate of the house, while one of his female students played messenger, going back and forth between the house and the gate. His first “office” did not even have a lavatory since he started with very little money in a tiny village. When nature called he had to go to his neighbour. These are just ones of many little things that brought tears to my eyes. There is someone in this world, willing to go through so much, so his fellow human beings could have better lives. Not just by making up high theories in the comfort of his room, but by diving head first into the center of the problem, to the lowest of the lowest of society. It restores your faith in humanity. It makes you believe the power of one person to change the world. It makes you believe in all sorts of things.
“How did we define “poverty-free”? After interviewing many borrowers about what a poverty-free life meant to them, we developed a set of ten indicators that our staff and outside evaluators could use to measure whether a family in rural Bangladesh lived a poverty-free life. These indicators are:
1) having a house with tin roof
2) having beds or cots for all members of the family
3) having access to safe drinking water
4) having access to a sanitary latrine
5) having all school-age children attending school
6) having sufficient warm clothing for the winter
7) having mosquito nets
8) having a home vegetable garden
9) having no food shortages, even during the most difficult time of a very difficult year
10) having sufficient income-earning opportunities for all adult members of the family”
How down to earth is he? The goals they set are clear and very realistic. The poverty rate has fallen from 74 percent in mid 1970s to 40 percent in 2005. A ridiculously high achievement for a nation that is often struck by natural disasters and has no great natural resources apart from the hard work of its people.
Professor Yunus is truly one in a million. What a better place he has made the world. My admiration for him has no bound.
2003, 277 pp