Muhammad Yunus | Pioneer of microfinance

Illustration: Sreejith R.Kumar

Muhammad Yunus and his grassroots Grameen Financial institution gained the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for lending a social conscience to capitalism and “their efforts to create financial and social improvement from under” in Bangladesh. At 83, the “banker to the poor” doesn’t look like slowing down. He strives, he asserts, for a world of three zeros: zero poverty, zero unemployment and 0 web carbon emissions.

As an alternative of shunning capitalism, Mr. Yunus’s method has been to humanise it. “The capitalist system is a machine which sucks up wealth from the underside to ship it to the highest. It’s not the fault of people on the high. They observe what the system asks them to do: chase cash,” Mr. Yunus mentioned in an interview with The New York Occasions in 2017. “However within the course of, wealth on the high grows like a large mushroom owned by fewer and fewer folks — for the straightforward cause that the extra they’ve, the extra they get. Wealth is a magnet.”

Additionally learn: Defined | Why are circumstances in opposition to Mohammad Yunus drawing consideration?

Small loans

Mr. Yunus modified this technique by permitting people to specific selflessness by means of what is called social enterprise. The idea, though deemed unrealistic by many, caught the Western creativeness. It advanced from his apply of granting poor folks small loans on simple phrases — the cornerstone of the Grameen Financial institution since its institution in 1983.

After finishing his research in Bangladesh and the U.S., Mr. Yunus was appointed professor of economics on the College of Chittagong in 1972. When Bangladesh suffered a famine in 1974, he ventured past the realm of instructing. He determined to offer loans to individuals who needed to start out their very own small enterprises. That initiative was expanded by means of the Grameen Financial institution on a big scale. Below his tutelage, the Grameen Financial institution performed a pivotal function in eradicating poverty by means of microlending. Greater than 100 nations have sought to duplicate this mannequin.

Nonetheless, his ‘banking for the poor’ enterprise has come underneath assault from some quarters. Microcredit is claimed to hold unusually excessive rates of interest on account of an absence of collateral and the overheads related to administering small loans. Mr. Yunus himself admitted that some organisations might have abused the microcredit system for revenue. As microcredit expanded all around the world, it grew to become much less possible that debtors can be monitored and shielded from falling deep into debt like earlier than. Critics cite modest advantages related to microcredit, overindebtedness, and a development towards commercialisation that’s much less centered on serving the poor.

Disputes at dwelling

At dwelling, Mr. Yunus grew to become embroiled in a barrage of authorized circumstances. In 2011, he was eliminated by Bangladesh’s central financial institution from the put up of managing director on the world’s best-known microlender, for holding on to the put up previous his retirement age. Mr. Yunus misplaced the court docket battle stemming from regulatory steps. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, on many events, accused him of influencing the World Financial institution’s exit from the nation’s largest bridge undertaking, an allegation he has constantly denied.

Greater than a decade later, a felony case in opposition to Mr. Yunus alleges three breaches underneath the nation’s Labour Act and will result in a jail sentence. This is only one of greater than 150 circumstances filed in opposition to him after the ruling Awami League occasion got here to energy in 2008, in keeping with Amnesty Worldwide. On October 5, the nation’s anti-graft company interrogated Mr. Yunus for greater than an hour on cash laundering costs. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Regardless of all these unsavoury sideshows, Mr. Yunus shall be remembered for his function in increasing microfinance around the globe. Nearly 40 years in the past, when the idea of microfinance as a poverty discount device was in its infancy, he fuelled hope that microcredit would remodel financial and social buildings with its concentrate on reaching the beforehand unbanked. By one estimate, the worldwide microfinance market was valued at $178.8 billion in 2020 and is projected to succeed in $496.9 billion by 2030.

(Arun Devnath is a journalist based mostly in Dhaka)

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