18 Apr 2017

The little loans making a big change

From Nine To Noon, 10:13 am on 18 April 2017

Professor Muhammud Yunus is known around the world as the grandfather of social business and microfinance.

The Nobel prize-winning economist from Bangladesh is the founder of the Grameen Bank and the Grameen Foundation.

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The Grameen Bank in Bangladesh found women rarely default on loans.   Photo: AFP / FILE

The idea behind his philosophy of micro credit, or micro loans, is that everyone is a natural entrepreneur.

And that providing the poor, especially women, with often tiny loans of $30 or $40, can be the start of a flourishing business and a complete change of life.

The Grameen Bank, founded in Bangladesh in the 1970s, now has 9 million borrowers – 97 percent of them women - with a repayment rate of almost 100 percent.

Professor Yunus, who's also received the US Presidential Medal of Freedom and a US Congressional Medal has been in New Zealand as a guest of the Aera Foundation.

He says natural entrepreneurship is the norm, not the exception.

“Look at the history of human beings on this planet, for hundreds of thousands of years we were not sending job applications to anyone, we did things on our own.”

The problem as he saw it was access to capital – however modest those amounts might be.

“The system is if you’re a successful business they will come and give you money, but who helps the start up? Put money on the table, everybody around will become entrepreneur.”

Prof Yunus was teaching economics 40 years ago, but was frustrated that it had little relevance in the real world - he wanted to make a difference to the lives of ordinary Bangladeshis.

When he visited a village near the university where he worked he saw a problem with loan sharking.

“I thought, why don’t I loan the money myself? They won’t have to go to a loan shark. So I started lending money out of my own pocket.

“It became very popular so I dished out more and more money, I ultimately created a bank to continue doing this.” 

The money seeds income producing projects.

“Why don’t they buy chicken then they can sell the eggs and pay back the bank, buy a cow and sell the milk and pay back the bank.”

And pay back they do, with scarcely any defaults. Women, he says, are better with money.

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Professor Muhammud Yunus Photo: Youtube

The program has been transformative, he says.

“Bangladesh women used to be stuck in the back room of the house, women are everywhere in Bangladesh now, working and building businesses.”

They are also canny with money; the bank has a compulsory savings policy, so, if you take a loan you must also start saving. The savings balance is now $US2 billion, the loan book sits at $US1.5 billion.  

“The tables have turned; the lender became the borrower and the borrower became the lender.”

The bank has branches everywhere in the world now.

“In the US we have 100,000 borrowers, 100 percent of them women and $US1 billion in loans.

“Many of them are undocumented women and the repayment record in eight years is 99.5 percent.”