a curious Yankee in Europe's court

blog about living in Europe, and Italy

Picturing the poor: Guardian’s new global development page

Posted on the September 15th, 2010

In partnership with the Gates Foundation, the Guardian newspaper is launching a new section focusing exclusively on global development.

According to editorsweblog.org, where I found this info (Stefanie Chernow, Sept 14, 2010):

The site will mainly focus on the progress that the world’s governments are making towards reaching the millennium development goals. These objectives include eradicating hunger and poverty, universal primary education, gender equality, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, fighting AIDS, ensuring global sustainability, and encouraging a global partnership for development…

And from a Guardian blog post about the new development section:

So, for instance, you can find the amount of aid each country has pledged so far this year, or the latest figures for people living under $1 a day, or the amount of emergency funding that Congo received this year. Just enter the search term and you will get the data.

To see the new Guardian development section, go here. Below is a video about the project narrated by Madeleine Bunting, associate editor and columnist for the Guardian.

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A few words that can change your life: Muhammad Yunus

Posted on the May 17th, 2010

When I began listening just now to the video of the commencement address that Nobel Prize Laureate Muhammad Yunus gave yesterday to some very lucky students at Duke University, my intention was to excerpt only a few sentences to accompany the video posted here. But Yunus’ words and ideas are so extraordinary that, as you can see,  I couldn’t stop transcribing.

With occasional wry touches of humor,  Yunus describes his kind of capitalism in action. It is astounding. This is a capitalism that is nothing like the rather awful deformity that is dominating our world now.

(The talk was less than 20 minutes — my transcription begins about four minutes in)

…I am very happy to be receiving this honorary degree. Not too many people are giving honorary degrees to bankers anymore…

You have just heard about my work, creating Grameen Bank. When I went back to Bangladesh, teaching economics, I had no idea that I would someday get involved in banking. I had no idea about banking. I didn’t have any learning about banking. But circumstances forced me into it. And since I didn’t know anything about banking, that became a big help for me. I didn’t have to follow their rules. I just looked with my eyes and saw what was there and tried to respond to the problems that I saw, and created a banking system that now looks like exactly the opposite of the conventional banks.

If I knew the rules, probably I would not be able to break those rules. Since I didn’t know it, I didn’t have any problem creating new rules and breaking all of them. Conventional banks go to the rich, we make sure we go to the poor. The poorer you are, the more attractive you are for us. If you are the poorest, we kind of celebrate that we found you. And it’s our job to find resources for you so you can change your life.

And we created a bank where we emphasize the women. Conventional banks mostly go to men, we decided to go to women. It changed their lives, it changed their families, it changed the country. The most dramatic thing that happened in Bangladesh in the last 25 years — any visitor to Bangladesh will tell you this — it is the empowerment of women. The status of women has changed so much from how it was 25 years back. One after another you see the differences that it made to people’s lives and the whole society.

And we created a bank, unlike conventional banks which are owned by the rich. We made the Grameen Bank owned by the poor. And owned by the poor women. So all the borrowers of Grameen Bank own the bank. Unlike the traditional way of thinking that you have to have donations and assistance from the government to run something for poor people, we defied that. We created a bank which runs by its own money. We just take the profits, just like any other bank, and lend that money to the poor women. We lend out $100 million a month, and all this money comes from the profits of the bank. And the bank makes profit, the profit goes back to the borrowers as dividends because they own the bank.

We concentrated on the children of the borrowers of Grameen Bank. We wanted to make sure they do not remain illiterate like their parents, who are totally illiterate. We made sure all the children go to school. And we’re very happy that we succeeded in that. And then we saw streams of these children going up the levels of education and coming to higher education. We gave them education loans to continue with higher education. So we have thousands and thousands of students in medical schools, engineering schools, universities all around the country. Many of them have completed their Ph.Ds.

And sometimes when I meet these young people, try to understand their problems, one common frustration they come up with, they say “We have education, we are finishing that. But what about our jobs? There’s no jobs in the country.” So I started telling them, “Look you are very privileged young people. You are privileged because your mother owns a bank. Why should you be looking for jobs? You should be taking a pledge. And that pledge will be, I’m not a job seeker, I’m a job creator. And prepare yourself to be a job creator. So change your mentality from just being in the employment market, to finding a job, looking and knocking at everybody’s door. If you feel frustrated that you don’t know how to start a business or something like that, you just look at your mother. She’s an illiterate woman. Many years back she joined Grameen Bank. She was scared to death taking this money in her own hand… but she overcame those fears and she became a successful business person. What good is your education if you are not better than your mother? So why can’t you at least do something with what your mother does, ten times as big, fifty times as big or 100 times as big, if you don’t have any new idea? And gradually you will come up with new ideas.

So we look at these young people, the son and the daughter, and then look at their mother, side by side. And I always come up with the same thought, that I always feel — the mother could have been a doctor too, like her daughter. But she couldn’t even go to school. Is this her fault? Is this something lacking in her? No, nothing is lacking in her. Simply, society never gave her the opportunity to go there.

So I sum up by concluding — poverty is not created by the poor people. Poverty is created by the system that we all built, in which we have to live. And that’s what created poverty. Seeds of poverty are not in the person, seeds of poverty are in the system. Look at the banking, what it does. Refuses to extend its services to the majority of the world population.

Two and a half years back, we started Grameen program in New York City because we were challenged that it could not be done in this country. I always said it could be done anywhere on this planet. So taking that challenge, we started it in Queens, New York in 2008, in January. That’s the year the financial crisis hit the world. So we had an amazing situation — in Queens, the Grameen program with no collateral, no guarantee, was flourishing… On the other side of the street, big banks were collapsing. These big banks told me back in 1976, “Banks cannot lend money to the poor because they are not creditworthy.” So I started asking people in New York, “Can you tell me who is creditworthy now?”

Journalists asked me, “What do you want to achieve in New York City by lending this little money to poor people? I said, “I just have one idea. I hope I can succeed in doing that. If we succeed in New York City — I hope we do — then there’ll be no payday loans in New York City. All these payday loans will be done, finished, with 1000 percent interest, 1500 percent interest. I said, “we are looking for a day when there will be no pawn shops in New York City. There will be no check cashing companies in New York City.” It became successful, we have opened a branch in Manhattan and Brooklyn, another branch in Brooklyn. This year we started in Washington D.C., and San Francisco…

The problem of the system is also in this conceptualization of what we are as a human being. In business, human beings are conceptualized as moneymaking machines. Business means business to make money, nothing else. And on top of it, you have to maximize profit. Except human beings are not a one-dimensional being. Human beings are a multi-dimensional being. They are not just money-making machines. If you can interpret the true human being within the framework of economic theory, then the world would be very different.

So I’m suggesting that we create another kind of business. The existing business is built on the selfishness of human beings. Everything is for me, nothing for others. But there is selflessness in all human beings. Every human being has this quality. And we create a business on the basis of selflessness. Everything is for others, nothing for me…

You have options now as young people graduating. You’ll be coming up with the idea, “What do I do? Do I work for a profit-making company or do I work for a social business? Or do I create a social business or do I create a profit-making business?” It’s up to us to decide. It’s an option, it’s not something anybody’s forcing on you.

A social business is a business dedicated to solve the problem. Any problem you see can be solved with a creative mind. Individuals become very powerful.

I was in Glasgow, and one of the problems they were discussing with me — they have thousands of families in Glasgow City who are on third-generation unemployment. I said, “How come?” They said, “Because of our welfare system.” I said, “That’s a shame. If I was one of those who is in third-generation unemployment, I’d be suing the government for crippling me. I’m not a crippled person, I’m a fullbodied human being. I have the creative energy, I can take care of myself.”

So in the discussion we decided to start social businesses to get unemployed people who remain unemployed for generations, to get them into opportunities and get out of the system they are forced into. So you see around us, whatever problem we see, we can create a social business. That’s the creative energy you all have as an individual. Each individual, each human being has the power, enormous power to change the world. And you have it. Are you going to use that to change the world? That’s the question I raise with you.

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