Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus honoured at UN for fighting poverty
By Anwulika Okafor
NEW YORK, New York, 22 November 2006 – Nobel Peace Prize recipient Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank and the ‘microcredit’ principle, was honoured at the UN this week for his work to eliminate poverty and empower women worldwide.
The Bangladesh-based Grameen Bank was built on the concept of microcredit, a system by which small loans are given without collateral to groups of poor people – often women – who are then able to lift themselves and their families out of abject poverty.
At the UN event, Mr. Yunus spoke earnestly about his goals to not only decrease poverty, but to also empower women who had previously felt they had no voice.
Loans build confidence
“We went to the women who always appealed to us, ‘Please don’t give money to us. We don’t know what to do with money.’ We didn’t listen to them because we said it is not the person talking, it is the fear in her talking,” said Mr. Yunus.
“We have to be very patient,” he continued. “We have to peel off that fear layer by layer. When she takes her first loan, she’s scared to death. She feels, ‘I am nobody.’ But, when she pays back the first loan, she stands tall. She feels, ‘I am somebody. I can conquer the world.’ And that’s what she does.”
Grameen Bank gives more than 96 per cent of its loans to women, at an average of $130. These small loans enable women to invest in income-generating endeavours, giving them the power to make economic decisions in their households and greater access to social services in their communities.
The focus for these women is no longer on mere survival, explained Mr. Yunus; instead, they can spend more time seeing to the health and well-being of their families. “Their life has changed,” he said. “Today, they are focused on their children – 100 percent of the children of Grameen families are in school.”
Out of poverty, into the future
According to Mr. Yunus, Bangladesh has seen a sharp reduction in poverty rates in recent years with the help of microcredit and other initiatives. During the 1990s, he said, poverty declined at an average rate of 1 percent per year. Since 2000, the annual rate of decrease has doubled to 2 per cent.
Mr. Yunus believes that with a small additional acceleration in poverty reduction, Bangladesh will be able to reach the Millennium Development Goal of halving its poverty rate by 2015.
The Nobel Laureate wants to see such developments in countries around the world. “If this can be done in one country and we can rejoice, we can celebrate, it can be done in any other country,” he said.