Taking an unbeaten path takes guts and grit. It comes with fear of the unknown, discouragement from naysayers and status quo fighting back to forestall any attempts at upsetting the equilibrium.
This was the story of Bangladeshi Economics don, Prof Muhammad Yunus, when he founded Grameen Bank, a micro-lender that would grow into a national success and lift millions from poverty, be replicated across the world, and earn him global acclaim and the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize. Inspired by abject poverty in the community adjacent to the university where he taught, he started the micro-lender whose name borrows from the local word for ‘village’, with just $27 from his pocket.
Of course I had already heard about Prof Yunus (haven’t we all?), but I developed a keener interest towards end of last year, after reading a Wharton Q&A review of his latest book ‘A World of Three Zeros`’. I particularly liked his fantastic soundbites. Check this out for instance:
This had me looking for his books. In the book, Banker to the Poor, the don chronicles his experiences over the years. He weathered all those storms; and look at him now. He is the most sought-after authority and father of Micro-credit.
Banker to the Poor is a brilliant read. Prof Yunus is a fantastic writer and thinker. Plus, he does not disappoint with the quips.
Here are my main take outs
- A world without poverty is possible, we just need to rethink our approaches against poverty. At the top of the part of Sustainable Development Goals is a commitment to eliminate poverty, in all its forms, by the year 2030. Thus, old approaches and systems that have perpetuated poverty over the years, have to be rethought. According to Prof Yunus, poverty is not created by the poor but by structures of society and the policies it pursues. The passionate anti-poverty evangelist declares that poverty belongs to the museum, where schoolchildren will see its horrific misery and indignity; while blaming their forefathers for tolerating its existence in a large segment of the population until the 21st century! Indeed, Prof Yunus has radical ideas about enhancing the global development system’s effectiveness in combating poverty, including shifting global headquarters of the World Bank to a location with some of the worst poverty levels. And just in case you are wondering how a world without poverty looks like, Prof Yunus describes it thus: one where everyone can meet their basic life needs; and nobody dies of hunger or suffers from malnutrition.
- It all starts with the self. It does take tonnes of self-motivation, self-belief and self-sacrifice to chase a dream; but at the end of the day, it is usually worth it. Prof Yunus had the option of staying in lecture-halls theorizing; but he chose the more difficult road to found a micro-lender, a break from what was then known. He gave of his own time and resources to actualize this dream. Echoing stories of other great men and women, nothing comes easy. It is easy to look at the glory that Prof Yunus is reveling in today and not see the blood, sweat and tears. Definitely it took some divine intervention and help from others, but he was fully invested as well.
- Behaviour change is a journey; it takes tenacity to overcome. Getting people to change their behaviours and attitudes towards an issue takes time and effort. Prof Yunus had to struggle with all kinds of roadblocks strewn in his path from all directions – resistance from the formal banking system, snail-paced government bureaucracy and a patriarchal community steeped in cultural dos and don’ts. A person at a time, the micro-lending gospel converted them and delivered results. Today, his model is held up as a global shining example.
Final Verdict: Banker to the Poor is totally worth the while.