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Muhammad Yunus, microcredit pioneer and UNICEF partner, awarded Nobel Peace Prize

UNICEF Image: Bangladesh: Muhammad Yunus
© Reuters/Rahman
Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh, founder of the Grameen Bank and winner of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, speaks to reporters outside his house in Dhaka.

By Tim Ledwith

NEW YORK, USA, 13 October 2006 – This year’s Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh, a pioneer in microcredit lending whose Grameen Bank has partnered with UNICEF on development projects benefiting vulnerable women and children.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee lauded Mr. Yunus and the bank for proving that “economic and social development from below” can succeed in the most impoverished nations.

“This is fantastic for all of us, for Grameen Bank, Bangladesh and all the poor countries and all the poor people all around the world,” Mr. Yunus said on Norwegian television after the prize was announced.

UNICEF Representative in Bangladesh called Mr. Yunus’s work “an outstanding contribution to humanity,” adding that “microcredit programmes have contributed to improve sustainably the status of  the poorest women – in Bangladesh and many other countries.”

Empowering women

As envisioned by Mr. Yunus when he founded the Grameen Bank 30 years ago, microcredit involves the extension of small loans without collateral to groups of poor people – especially women – so that they can invest in income-generating activities. It is a way of improving earning capacity and therefore reducing poverty.

UNICEF Image: Bangladesh: Muhammad Yunus
© UNICEF/2006/Houshidari
Women involved in a UNICEF-supported microcredit project in India.

But beyond providing these small loans, successful microcredit programmes give the borrowers – and their children – increased access to basic social services. As a result, they can focus on their business ventures without having to worry about their families’ sheer survival.

Microcredit also empowers women by enabling them to make economic decisions and bring in a larger proportion of household income.

‘Poorest of the poor’

In Bangladesh, Mr. Yunus’s bank has worked with UNICEF since the early 1980s to integrate social development into its lending services. At weekly meetings, borrowers and bank representatives address issues such as health care, nutrition, water and sanitation, and primary education, as well as the elimination of dowry in marriage.

Similar projects serve millions around the developing world. Contrary to the conventional wisdom Mr. Yunus faced early on, most of them have proven to be disciplined borrowers and savers, able to repay loans on time.

As the Nobel committee put it: “Across cultures and civilizations, Yunus and Grameen Bank have shown that even the poorest of the poor can work to bring about their own development.”

UNICEF itself was awarded the 1965 Nobel Peace Prize “for the promotion of brotherhood among nations.” In 2001, UNICEF shared in the Nobel Prize awarded to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the entire United Nations system for “efforts to achieve peace and security in the world.”



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