Bangladeshi Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus wants the rural population in the Indian subcontinent to take a sip from the ocean of money around them that they have no access to through conventional systems of banking.
'We live in an ocean of money but poor people do not have a sip of that. We in Grameen Bank tried to offer that sip to the poor,' he said at a gathering here organised by the South Asia Research Society to felicitate him Monday evening.
'We have reached where conventional banks did not. The banking system of the country (Bangladesh) does not even recognise these people. I think credit should be accepted as a human right,' said Yunus, who set up the Grameen Bank way back in 1976 when he was Head of the Rural Economics Programme at the University of Chittagong.
'Conventional banks will simply not lend money to the poor. But when we stepped in, we became concerned about the person's future. I was simply not interested in his past or when a person borrowed money and did not pay back or made a mistake. We demanded no collateral, nothing. My simple rationality was that the person would pay back because he or she would want to keep the door of credit open for future loans and opportunities,' said Yunus.
'They are paying back because for the first time they got an opportunity which no one (read conventional banks) earlier gave them,' said Yunus.
'We have given a chance even to a murder convict after he was released from jail. I was not interested in his past. He later went on to become a successful centre manager of Grameen Bank,' he said.
Emphasising the need for micro-credit, the system he developed, Yunus said: 'We can create a local economy with Grameen Bank. People in my country had a choice between Grameen Bank and moneylenders. So they chose Grameen Bank.'
In October 1983, the Grameen Bank project was transformed into an independent bank by government legislation. Today Grameen Bank is owned by the rural poor whom it serves. Borrowers of the Bank own 90 percent of its shares, while the remaining 10 percent is owned by the government.
Grameen Bank has reversed conventional banking practice by removing the need for collaterals and created a banking system based on mutual trust, accountability, participation and creativity. As of December 2006, it had 6.91 million borrowers, 97 percent of whom were women. With 2,319 branches, Grameen Bank provides services in 74,462 villages, covering more than 89 percent of the total villages in Bangladesh.
'I was more interested in serving the women and ensured that they got loans because they were particularly ignored earlier. Not even one percent of borrowers from conventional banks were women. But I changed that and needless to say that women are more cautious with money and with very long term plans,' said Yunus.
'My target now is to bring out hundred percent of the families under Grameen Bank to come out of poverty by 2015,' said Yunus.
'We don't know the impact of our activity on the GDP of Bangladesh but we have our own way of measuring success as we have a check list like the condition of the roof of the borrower's house, whether from sleeping on the floor he has upgraded to a cot or whether he or she has minimum 5,000 taka in the bank as savings or not. We also check if the children are going to school or the family has a sanitary toilet,' Yunus said.
'Micro-credit does not ensure a sumptuous meal but it at least offers a basic meal to those who had no meal. My goal was to offer that basic minimum,' he said metaphorically.