Have wanted to write about Mohammad Yunus – the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize this year for a long time. It would be stating the obvious to write about all the things that has been widely reported – his personal story, the micro-finance strategy that he all but invented and is now followed all over the world, including, might I add, in the most affluent country of the world – the United States.
So I thought, I’d write about my thoughts when I first read about Yunus winning the Nobel Prize. Personally, I think the Nobel Prize is a tad over-rated – almost seems to me that it has become the single and the most important symbol of recognition of the a life’s passion of so many remarkable individuals. Keep in mind that some of the most remarkable individuals in history have not won the Nobel – Mahatma Gandhi is one person who first comes to mind.
Regardless, it was so gratifying to see Mohammad Yunus’ work finally getting the press and recognition it always deserved – the Nobel nothwithstanding – though the money and recognition certainly doesnt harm.
I first read about Grameen Bank – or the Bank of the Village, about 5 years ago – when I first started reading about economics on the Web. What surprised me was the underlying theme of the story – the repayment rate of the poorest of the poor comes close to 99% – much much more than anything than the repayment rates of banks that lend money to the affluent of the world at much more favorable rates than they would ever lend to someone who cannot provide a collateral.
The more one thinks about it – it blows the mind – and contradicts all rational thought – someone without collateral – is much more motivated to repay a loan – than someone with a stake in actually repaying the loan. The only explanation I can come up with is the human desire to better one’s life. In this case, when a small amount of money is lent to a group of women to start a home business in a village – to them – it is more than just a sum of money lent to them – to them, it is a passport to dignity, a way to economic freedom, to dignity. And I think that single factor motivates the poor to be gratified – and that feeling – which pushes up repayment rates to levels conventional financial institutions can only dream about.
But the greatness of Mohammed Yunus’ work isnt recognizing the human aspect of such economics. In my opinion, what transcends him from regular folks, was his moral outrage against his own pedantic intellectualism as an economics professor – when Bangladesh was going through the famine of the early 1970’s. It was the constructive activism that came out of that moral outrage. And finally, it was his conviction in his beliefs that led him to do what is so well documented all over the internet and world press.
Great work Mr. Yunus. You make us proud. Not just as a South Asian. But also as a human being – for having the courage, the moral clarity and the conviction – to step outside the comfort of your tenure professorship to actually do something that changed the lives of so many people for the better.