“Whatever banks did, I did the opposite. If banks lent to the rich I lent to the poor. If banks lent to men, I lent to women. If you had to go to the bank, my bank went to the village.” Maybe these sound like the words of a man who doesn’t know business. But they are in fact the words of one of the world’s greatest social businessmen, Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Congressional Gold Medal winner, and Presidential Medal of Freedom winner Muhammad Yunus.
On July 22, 2013, the USAID community had the privilege of hearing Mr. Yunus speak. He spoke about starting his various businesses, the Grameen Bank in particular, and about the difficulties faced when trying to help those in need. Grameen bank is a microcredit lending bank, founded in 1983 but with origins dating back to 1976.
That year, Yunus went into the poorest rural communities in Bangladesh and saw what he calls “a desperation”; to escape poverty, to escape the violent loan sharks who ruled the areas, a desperation for a better way of life.
Without a thought to the positive global impact that Grameen bank would one day have, he decided he could fix the problem or at least he could make a difference here in this small area. He began using his own money for microcredit loans in these rural regions, taking the place of the loan sharks. He believed that if you used business as a tool to produce more money, not for profit but to continue the cycle of lending then it would help the greatest number of people possible.
Today Grameen bank has branches all over the world, including several in the United States. He has been dubbed one of the greatest global thinkers of our time and there is a lot that can be learned from him and his style of aid.
At the end of the day, said Yunus, the real issue is the system in its entirety, as it produces poverty and unemployment: “Should the system condemn the people and put the people in the trash, or should the people condemn the system and put the system in the trash?”
To remedy this, Yunus believes USAID should invest more in local civil society and less in foreign governments when it comes to aiding native populations. In fact, as Administrator Shah noted, this is one of the many initiatives USAID Forward is taking on.
In addition, Yunus said that although the Agency is dedicated to the betterment of humankind it is still a part of the U.S. government and therefore like most governments, not as adept at innovation as it could be. The more lithe and adaptable the organization, and the less restricted by protocol and procedure, the more effective it will be at producing the necessary change.