Other Book Reviews:
(PBUH) at Mecca
(PBUH) at Medina
The parables of the
Leadership: An Islamic
A mirror to the blind: An
autobiography of Abdus
Banker to the Poor
The autobiography of Muhammad Yunus, founder of the
In 1974, Professor Muhammad Yunus, a Bangladeshi economist from
Chittagong University, led his students on a field trip to a poor village. They
interviewed a woman who made bamboo stools, and learnt that she had to
borrow the equivalent of 15p to buy raw bamboo for each stool made. After
repaying the middleman, sometimes at rates as high as 10% a week, she was
left with a penny profit margin. Had she been able to borrow at more
advantageous rates, she would have been able to amass an economic
cushion and raise herself above subsistence level.
Realizing that there must be something terribly wrong with the economics he
was teaching, Yunus took matters into his own hands, and from his own
pocket lent the equivalent of £ 17 to 42 basket-weavers. He found that it was
possible with this tiny amount not only to help them survive, but also to create
the spark of personal initiative and enterprise necessary to pull themselves
out of poverty.
Against the advice of banks and government, Yunus carried on giving out
'micro-loans', and in 1983 formed the Grameen Bank, meaning 'village bank'
founded on principles of trust and solidarity. In Bangladesh today, Grameen
has 1,084 branches, with 12,500 staff serving 2.1 million borrowers in 37,000
villages. On any working day Grameen collects an average of $1.5 million
in weekly installments. Of the borrowers, 94% are women and over 98% of the
loans are paid back, a recovery rate higher than any other banking system.
Grameen methods are applied in projects in 58 countries, including the US,
Canada, France, The Netherlands and Norway.
Muhammad Yunus is that rare thing: a bona fide visionary. His dream is the
total eradication of poverty from the world. 'Grameen', he claims, 'is a
message of hope, a programme for putting homelessness and destitution in a
museum so that one day our children will visit it and ask how we could have
allowed such a terrible thing to go on for so long'. This work is a fundamental
rethink on the economic relationship between the rich and the poor, their
rights and their obligations. The World Bank recently acknowledged that 'this
business approach to the alleviation of poverty has allowed millions of
individuals to work their way out of poverty with dignity'.
Credit is the last hope left to those faced with absolute poverty. That is why
Muhammad Yunus believes that the right to credit should be recognized as a
fundamental human right. It is this struggle and the unique and extraordinary
methods he invented to combat human despair that Muhammad Yunus
recounts here with humility and conviction. It is also the view of a man
familiar with both Eastern and Western cultures — on the failures and
potential for good of industrial countries. It is an appeal for action: we must
concentrate on promoting the will to survive and the courage to build in the
first and most essential element of the economic cycle — Man.
Muhammad Yunus was born in 1940 in Chittagong, the business centre of
what was then Eastern Bengal. He was the third of 14 children of whom five
died in infancy. Educated in Chittagong, he was awarded a Fulbright
scholarship and received his Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University, Nashville,
Tennessee. In 1972 he became head of the Economics Department at
Chittagong University. He is the founder and managing director of the
Grameen Bank. In 1997, Professor Yunus led the world’s first Micro Credit
Summit in Washington, DC.
Alan Jolis, co-author of Banker to the Poor, is an American journalist and
writer, now living in Sweden. His books include Love and Terror, Speak
Sunlight (a memoir of childhood) and several children’s novels. He is a
contributor to Vogue, Architectural Digest, the Wall Street Journal, the
International Herald Tribune and other periodicals.
"If I could be useful to another human being, even for a day, that would be a
great thing. It would be greater than all the big thoughts I could have at the
university" Muhammad Yunus