Category Archives: Microfinance

Good Friday?

As a day of great significance for the Christian faith, Good Friday has always been a day of reflection for me, whether such musings have been entirely religious or not.  I have used a portion of every Good Friday since I can remember to contemplate life, the world, my place in it and whether I think I’m “measuring up” or not.  I confess that the nearly universal conclusion I reach is “Not,” and then I spend the rest of my day wondering what to do about that state of affairs.  (Apparently, not enough, since my answer tends to be the same annually.)  But truly significant events are, in truth, rarely about me and this day has brought me face-to-face with a significant missive from Nicaragua that leaves me achingly sad.  The note reads:

I want to tell you that we have been doing everything that can be done to recover the funds of the financing of the women´s group, so far I have been meeting with them and I know they feel very bad about not being able to pay, but it was not their will, it was something external like the [coffee] rust and antracnosis, all this has caused us serious problems…  and we are making commitments with buyers, but this low yield makes us fall short, and this brings consequences. They sent us a direct message to either send them the coffee or return the money they forwarded, if we do not do so they are already threatening us with taking us to court. You know that I am the legal representative and I signed these contracts, so all this will fall on me; I am concerned because I had nothing to do with the [previous] bad administration and the [previous] debts.  I do not know what to do.  I know that these demands will hurt me and will throw away all the work that I have been doing honestly. I am reporting this to you now so that you are not surprised if this ends up happening, and I am looking for friendly hands to support me and not fall so low. I tell you that I am ready to sell what I have been able to obtain based on my [own]work  and provide this money and not fall into the rumor mill for bad administration, that always comes as theft. This I tell you so that you might know how we are, also because of the confidence that you  have offered. I hope in God that this gets resolved, but other hands  have a lot of influence and it does not matter to them to knock anyone down that they do not like. Thousand pardons for taking some of your time,

The note is from the representative of a WPF partner, a fledgling organization of primarily women, a group which has struggled mightily to improve their economic and social circumstances, women who have worked honestly and with good intention.  And while their first cycle of credit proved to be successful, their second cycle experienced difficulties, encountered in both the vagaries of nature and in the deceit of man.  The repayment of their debt appears to be unlikely.  Their resources to raise another crop are non-existent.    The chain of debt- forged in the expectation of a good yield last year and by earlier, fraudulent representations by others- is weighty enough to strangle their credibility, their honor and their future.  These women of good character and integrity, some of whom I have described and  lauded here in previous posts, face an undeserved and uncompromising end to their efforts.  But there is very little that WPF, or I, can do about it.  So, on this Good Friday of contemplation and introspection, I am empty of either action or idea.

Maybe that is one of the lessons of a day such as this, that circumstances are not always subject to our control, that bad things do happen to good people, that justice is not a given nor even a frequent guest.  That right- and the righteous- do not always triumph as they should.  Sometimes, we simply don’t have the remedies at our disposal, no matter how good our intentions.  And that within this reality we all have the responsibility to be more than we have been willing to be.  All the pieces to this puzzle called human life on earth are here, among us, waiting for their proper placement.  I need to work a lot harder to understand just exactly where I fit in, where we all do, or I’m destined to have a lot more of these uncomfortable Good Fridays….

 

The “Piece” Prize Forum

I attended the Nobel Peace Prize Forum during this past weekend.  It was the 25th annual gathering of Nobel laureates and an eclectic mix of others who have activist interests in the pursuit of a more just and peaceable world.  The Forum has now grown to an attendance of approximately 6,000 at the Minneapolis site, with perhaps thousands more connected by Internet livestreaming technologies that  linked up with more than 20 countries around the world.

The theme of this year’s gathering was ‘The Power of Ideas: People and Peace,” and there is no question that the big ideas represented by the plenary speakers, in particular, have had a great impact throughout the world.  Participants were afforded the opportunity to hear 2006 laureate Muhammad Yunus, the father of microcredit, the father of social business, the founder of Grameen Bank, and of more than 50 other companies in Bangladesh.   2011 laureate Tawakkol Karman was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her humanitarian work for the rights and safety of women and children in Yemen.   Malcolm Potts is a Cambridge trained obstetrician and reproductive scientist, whose most recent book is a fascinating look at Sex and War: How Biology Explains War and Terrorism and Offers a Path to a Safer World.  Dr. Paul Farmer is one of the world’s leading thinkers on health and human rights and the consequences of social inequality.  Dr. Farmer has written extensively on the right to health care and the sanctity of every human life. Powerful thinkers with powerful ideas, all.  The chance to hear these activists and “pioneers” is always inspiring, usually thought-provoking, and even occasionally life-changing.

It’s fascinating to hear the stories of how single, decisive actions on the part of seemingly everyday people can generate such transformational movements.  Appropriately, the Forum served, in part, to celebrate the enormity of the ideas; such celebration is absolutely warranted in the face of the enormity of the issues to address.  But as I sat in the audience during the three days and soaked in the inspiration from these gifted activists and storytellers, I was struck by something significantly smaller than the big ideas attributed to them.  Quite the opposite.

If one considers the story of Muhammad Yunus and the birth of microlending, it is not essentially a tale of Grameen Bank and the billions of dollars that have been loaned to impoverished people around the world.  At its heart, it is the story of a university professor who could not reconcile his knowledge of economics with his empathy for a poor woman begging on the streets of Bangladesh.  In a moment of feeling, whether from guilt or practicality, he loaned her a small sum to be paid back whenever it might become possible, whenever he might again meet her on the street.  They did meet.  She did repay him.  And the rest, as they say, became history.

Paul Farmer has become a veritable medical force in the world, working against convention and bureaucracy on behalf of his patients, almost all of whom reside in the very poorest reaches of the world.  But he began practicing medicine in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere- Haiti- with the idea of simply helping every patient he met.   “The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that is wrong with the world,”  he says.  His story is less about the organizations and medical movements he has influenced and more about his commitment to a patient. Every patient.

Tawakkol Karman never set out to become the youngest recipient of a Nobel Peace Prize.  Essentially, she could no longer remain quiet in the face of an oppressive culture which denied basic rights to women, including the right to express their own ideas freely.  With other female journalist colleagues, she simply said “no” to the continuation of censored speech, and “yes” to the promotion of all human rights, “particularly freedom of opinion and expression, and democratic rights.”

Their impacts have become huge.  Yet for each of these change agents, the starting point was a single, small act.  Each sought to be an influence within his/her own niche of life, to make a difference in the life of a beggar or a patient or a colleague.  The outreach was close and personal.   And in that mix of connectedness something singular was created among its actors, something which possessed the capacity to grow far beyond its original dimensions and to become more universal in character, a force too strong in its makeup to remain unknown, a movement which captured the imagination of the entire world.  Not Yunus nor Farmer nor Karman sought to change the world.  Each only sought to do what could be done, one borrower, one patient, one step at a time.  From such seeds, movements can bloom.

One Peace Prize Forum attendee  asked what she could possibly do in the face of the immensity of the world’s problems, citing hunger, disease, poverty and oppression of all kinds.   I thought I heard in her question the wonderment about what the Forum speakers had shared and the initiatives that had developed under their activism.  But really, her wonderment might have been better directed to the simplicity of how these pioneers have acted.  For the power of their ideas stem from a basic truth: there is no cause greater than the love of your neighbor, no gift more important than the role of servant to those in need, whether helping a neighbor, an organization, a village or a country.  Each one of us represents a single piece in this great puzzle of life.    It’s a piece we each need to play….

 

 

 

Useless Things

Part of my recent travels to Nicaragua included participation in a workshop on cooperatives, the most recent in a series of workshops focused on the rural coops in the northern coffee region.  Winds of Peace has been sponsoring these workshops over the past two years, allowing tier one coops to meet and discuss issues with tier two groups, buyers, funders, technical assistance organizations and more.  These have proven to be unique opportunities for these groups to assemble for several days, discuss production and commercialization issues, to learn of each others’ concerns, and hopefully to create alliances among one another  that will strengthen all.  The sessions have proven to be enormously popular among the participants;  other, non-invited cooperatives have consistently inquired about the possibilities of their own participation.  Time will tell whether the organizational strengthening work that they are doing will create significant development, but the early indicators are positive.

Between Sessions with Freddy

In this most recent workshop, we heard presentations on topics of innovation, and primarily from the youth of the region.  In turn, each of the nine stood before the other sixty  participants and carefully described the business plan of an economic initiative of their creation.  The plans were articulated with detail, enthusiasm, and realistic expectations.  They ranged from a regimen of plastic bottle recycling to the raising of honey bees.  PowerPoint presentations brought the ideas to life as each innovator spoke to issues such as strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to their plans.  Each had thought through the myths and misconceptions that might have prevented others in the past.  And the plans examined the initiative from a full range of perspectives, including intellectual, social, emotional, spiritual, occupational and physical dimensions.  I was impressed; frankly, I have read business plans in the U.S. that were not nearly as well-crafted and holistic as these.  I noted in particular the confidence exuded by each entrepreneur as he/she laid out the plan of attack.

Abraham Cruz

One idea caught my attention in a big way.  Abraham Cruz is an impressive, young family man who has been raised within the GARBO cooperative lands beneath the towering presence of Peñas Blancas.  His life and worldview in that beautiful natural environment have clearly shaped his thinking, as he presented an idea unique in my experience: he outlined the development of a “colibrario,” a preserve, or sanctuary, for hummingbirds.

Within the restricted confines of his own yard, Abraham decided to act upon his interest in these tiny creatures.  He began learning more about their habitat, the types of plants that attracted the various species- five found within Nicaragua- and commenced a regimen of planting and cultivating around his yard.  In fact, he spent a great share of every day developing this environment, sometimes to the derision and even unhappiness of others.  “Why do you plant flowers all day?” people would ask.  “Who cares about these hummingbirds, anyway?  This is lazy work.  You are interested in useless things.”  Conventional thinking regarded Abraham’s commitment to this small aviary a waste of time.   Fortunately, Abraham was far more attuned to his own inner voice than the noise surrounding him.  He persisted in cultivating his yard space to attract and nurture the proliferation of the tiny birds.  And the endeavor has worked.  As Abraham toured us through his densely-packed yard, he pointed out one dazzling aerial acrobat after another.  As we enjoyed the array, Abraham talked about the future plans he has in mind to attract even more birds, to invite more  of the native species into view, to document their habits and behaviors, and to introduce tourists to this amazing world of laser-like flight.  Abraham is nothing less than a self-made ornithologist.

You-Know-Who

For me, personally, hummingbirds occupy space in that niche of wildlife that commands a deep awe and attention.  Like giant pandas, penguins and porpoises, there is something intensely attractive about hummingbirds, a quality that captures our imagination and love for them.  We set out all kinds of devices to attract these kinetic creatures: sugared water cones and brightly flowered feeders and large flowering plants.  Maybe it’s due to their tiny size that we recognize their vulnerability and feel instinctive desires to feed and protect them.  Like newborn puppies, hummingbirds are nearly irresistible.  And in this visit, I was able to be as close to these creatures as I have ever been.   I had the opportunity to feel the communing experience that Abraham described in his earlier presentation, an up-close and personal connection with a part of nature which somehow fulfills us in ways we can’t always explain.     But that space is an essential one for each of us, whether we always recognize it or not, whether the world at-large sees it or not.

At the end of our two days in the workshop, as the youth from the various cooperatives prepared to set off on their varied project journeys,  I found myself hoping that they had found the time to visit with Abraham at his home and to experience the project that was already unfolding there.  I know that they heard his story about his hummingbird dream.  I know that they understood all too clearly the hurt that comes from derision of new ideas which don’t comport with conventional thought.  I even thought for a moment about offering the famous quote from Albert Einstein, when he said, “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.”  But in the end I can only hope that they share the same resilience that Abraham has displayed in remaining true to his own muse and that they, too, continue in their pursuit of useless things….

Credit Where Credit Is Due

Ever since Winds of Peace first began its microlending practices in Nicaragua in 1994, it has struggled with the balance between making resources available to those organizations in greatest need and the desire to maintain a high rate of repayment.  It’s a difficult balance, because often those in greatest need have the least experience and the toughest obstacles to surmount.  While we have been blessed with a very strong repayment history from our partners over the years, we also have lamented the fact that there did not appear to be any means for effectively researching a group’s credit history, either good or bad.  Sometimes we might be able to speak with other funders, if we knew that they had supported an organization in the past, but such opportunities were few and far-between and often the information offered provided limited insight as to future credit performance.  The result has been to the detriment of both the members of the funding community, who have had to take on greater risk based upon their singular assessments of a group, as well as to the field of potential borrowers who must generate their funding requests under a generic cloud of suspect accountability.  That may be changing.

WPF has recently subscribed to SinRiesgos, a credit bureau servicing the entire country of Nicaragua.   While this organization came into existence in 2004, it began independent operations in 2006 and has really become an active and sought-after service in the wake of the No-Payers Movement in recent years; there is nothing like a period of defaults to get the attention of lenders.  As a result, the database has been expanding with new entries and the users have grown from a few big lenders to now include individual cooperatives seeking to evaluate potential new members.  The service currently serves more than 230 institutions, including banks, microfinance institutions, and cooperatives.

The presence and growth of an organization like SinRiesgos might seem like an unremarkable development to some.  Service companies such as this are common in North America and throughout Western-style economies.  But its presence in Nicaragua marks a threshold of importance for that country in at least two respects.  As an operating tool for use by the credit industry, the service represents a major advancement.  Lenders in Nicaragua have long been hampered by assessing loan-worthiness in the dark, relying on word-of-mouth representations, written proposals which may not always contain accurate credit histories and occasionally personal interviews which can be highly subjective.  The result has been that many lending institutions which once operated broadly across Nicaragua are now much more restrictive in their presence or have left the country altogether.   But there’s a second benefit that carries an even-greater potential, the creation of an accountability tool for the borrowers.

Accountability is often found in the personal character of leaders, those who speak on behalf of their cooperatives or associations.  Their word is their bond and one may rely on that with confidence.  But such reliability is not universal and in any case it is usually difficult to assess in advance.  For hopeful borrowers, the challenge has become not only how to convince a lender of the importance of loaned capital, but also their trustworthiness to receive it. With the credit service, they now have a tool to demonstrate their reliability, something by which to measure the the performance of their words.  And that is an asset to the poor and poorly-connected worth a great deal.  It is measurable credibility.

There is yet another benefit to the emergence of the credit bureau service.  It is in the form of an attitude.  When most people are faced with an objective, there is an inherent desire to achieve it;  it might come from pride or self-satisfaction or self-respect.  But there is also an external drive to accomplish it, emanating from our  knowledge that the people around us are paying attention, and for most of us, that’s a powerful motivation to “measure up.”  If the detriment to defaulting on an uncollateralized  loan is that one can simply walk away from it and on to the next funder, no one is well-served.  The original lender has lost the loan, the borrower has failed to repay and that is the end of the story.  Such a minimal consequence actually harms the borrower when the default is without meaning, without impact.  As a consequence, the lesson learned is that defaulting is painless and therefore not to be taken too seriously.  But if the outcome creates an effect, a cost, an impact- in the marketplace, the community and in the psyche- then a transition is possible.  The essential outcome is not simply that default is painful; the true lesson is that successful performance builds confidence, self-respect and a foundation from which to dream.  And that is what SinRiesgos has the capacity to do for its participants.

I never thought about such impacts as our company worked with credit services in the United States for more than 30 years; it demonstrates the shortsightedness that we all tend to bring to our respective perspectives.  But the people of Nicaragua, and I, are still learning….

The Simplicity of Joy

While in Nicaragua last month, we made our way to visit a number of partners and prospects for funding, as usual.  A week’s worth of visits that includes sixteen visits within five departments of the country can make for a tiring itinerary, but there is always a boost of energy that comes from the people themselves.  Corporate CEO’s may receive perks from their jobs like access to private jets or luxurious vacation getaways under the guise of “business meetings.”  But MY perk is found in the faces and voices of rural Nicaraguans, peasants mostly, who are as basic as the earth they work on.  And every once in a while I meet one such person who can absolutely light up a room, his/her peers, and my own soul.  That’s what I experienced a few days ago.

Our final day found us in the northern department of Madriz, in the town of Somoto.  We made an early departure in order to take the long, slow drive to Venecia, a tiny wide-spot-in-the-road where the women of COMUNEC cooperative would be meeting.  The road is barely a road; four-wheel drive low is a blessing and a need, and we may have averaged 5-10 miles per hour for the hour to get there.  The region is as scenic as any spot on earth but for the occasional reminders along the way of how many of the rural poor must live, in marginal dwellings that barely qualify as sheds.  The way up the mountain is stunning: stunning in both its exquisite nature and its intense poverty.

The meeting to which we have been invited is essentially a one-year celebration of the formation of this group and Winds of Peace support of it.  The women arrive on foot, many having come from long distances.  One young woman has hiked for three hours down the mountain to where we have gathered.  Her neighbor has traveled even further, although with the luxury of a horse.  We meet inside the house of one of the members, a smiling, ebullient woman who is as fussy about her guests as any socialite ever was, even within the sparse darkness of her dwelling.  But the energy level is high; the chattering and laughter fills the room.  Shyly, every woman in the room offers a hand of welcome.

This scenario is not uncommon among the visits we make during my time in Nicaragua.   Certainly, groups are always eager to thank those who have provided resources of any kind.  And Nicaraguans in general have always shown themselves to be gracious and friendly in whatever the setting.  So the start of our visit with the women of COMUNEC was not singular by any means.  What it evolved to was something else.

The women began telling their stories of the past year, of how they sought to create an economic initiative of their own, of how their husbands were invited to deed one manzana (1.68 acres) of land to their wives, of how 34 actually did so, of how that transfer created access to funding for the cultivation and care of the land, and how the harvest was now fulfilling dreams.  These are moving stories of individuals who likely have never belonged to any organized group in their lives, who have lived lives of exclusion under the authority of their husbands, and who yearn for their own voices and standing in precisely the same way that women from western societies do.  And maybe for the first time in their lives, they are beginning to feel the empowerment of such achievements.

The stories are told quietly but with confidence, until one young woman stood to share her experience; it was the woman who had hiked for hours.  And her recitation immediately elevated both the impact of the meeting as well as the self-assurances of everyone else in the room.

Her name is Gladis del Socorro Herrera.  She articulated what was held in the hearts of the others in the room and injected an energy and passion that was tangible.  “To say that I have my own plot of land, that’s a beautiful thing.  It is the first thing I have ever owned that is truly mine.  I can hardly believe that I was out there on this piece of land that was mine! ”  The excitement in her voice was tempered only by the slight quiver of emotion as she spoke it.  I had been attentive to the others prior to this, but Gladis spoke with a fervor that grabbed me entirely.

“This chance makes us owners of something, something that belongs to us, and an experience that we can share with one another, these sisters.  Sharing our excitement, our experiences, our training and our learning, is wonderful!  To have had our heads filled with knowledge, we are brand new people!”   I would never presume to say that I know what Gladis was really feeling, but I do know that her words sent chills up my spine and drew a tear from my eye, such was the power of her testimony.  Her unfiltered, uncensored joy over this simple plot of land- its importance in her life, and how it had even strengthened the relationship with her husband as they compared notes and counseled with one another about the harvest- spoke eloquently about its impact.  Her enthusiasm prompted others to speak with emotion, as well.

“I had never taken a loan before.  I was always frightened about such things.  But the trainings have removed my fears; I’m past that.  I understand how the loan works and it has changed me.”  These small loans from the coop were transformative in small but very personal ways.  I noted especially the reactions of several women in the room who had not yet joined the cooperative and who were as riveted by the stories as I was.  I thought that I perceived looks of hopefulness, if such can be identified.

The elements of life which give us hope, which satisfy our longings and fill us with happiness are likely far different from what we in “developed” countries identify as gratifying; I often find myself asking the question of who is really the more developed?  For one small group of Nicaraguan women, joy has come not from riches or technologies or accumulation of things, but from a plot of earth that they have as their own and the pleasures of sharing such a rare experience with others.

“If you’ve come to take something away from this visit, take our happiness in being able to work together; that is our wealth.”  I did come away with a clear sense of their happiness, and it’s a lesson that perhaps we would all do well to understand….

Banking On It

In light of the current status of banks and banking in the U.S. (wretched), I suppose the last institution with which I’d like to be affiliated is a bank.  Central banks and those deemed “too big to fail” contributed mightily to the near-collapse of the U.S. economy several years ago, and their persistent breaches of integrity place them firmly at the lowest end of the scale of trustworthiness.  It’s a bad place for banks to be, when they represent an institution that really should thrive on their customers’ trust.  (Just this week I was prompted to contact one well-known national bank to inquire about when they might be predisposed to distribute a small remainder of my parents’ estate, the bulk of which was settled months ago.  Oh yeah, they replied, we probably can release those funds now.  Hm.  Who knows how long they might have elected to hold onto the funds if I had not inquired.)

Last week, however, I had an entirely different experience with a banking operation in Nicaragua.  I visited again with The Nicaraguan Association for Sustainable Development (ANIDES) and its visionary leader, Gloria Elena Ordoñez Vargas.  This is an individual and an organization that understands what banking is supposed to be like, and it puts to shame most of the other organizations I know that go by the name “bank.”

Winds of Peace has funded ANIDES previously, in an effort to assist the organization with the establishment of five communal banks.  These are small, local banking offices to promote the economic and organizational autonomy of more than 200 women who live in extreme poverty in very rural locations.  Indeed, the offices more often than not are simply the homes of the local leaders.  But what these banks have been able to do, what they have represented for the women members is nothing short of remarkable.

With a very modest funding by Winds of Peace, in a little more than a year ANIDES has been able to establish a revolving credit fund for the 220+ members, establish two business groups to coordinate independent “home” businesses, provide training in the creation of a savings culture, nurture a positive capital growth in each of the small banks established, offer education and assistance to women victims of domestic violence, enhance the access to basic food needs and boost the local economies of the communities served.  This is banking in its most holistic form, integrating elements that are social, organizational, cultural, economic, human, spiritual and environmental in scope.  When was the last time your bank inquired about your social, human or spiritual needs?

What is even more remarkable about this initiative’s success is that it is being achieved with women members who have almost no previous economic experience or training.  Meeting with the women for the first time last September, I was struck by their shyness and humility, but also with their tenacity (many came from miles away on foot) and their outright success: only one of the small community banks was showing deficits by its neophyte members.  Members themselves were providing the tracking, the follow-up and the solidarity with one another to make sure that their borrowing was matched by their repayments.  In other words, the bank existed to facilitate both the needs and the strengths of its members, not to impose onerous conditions that would encourage failure.  What a novel concept for banking.  What an amazing impact on the lives of some very poor people.

The intended extension of this banking project is that the women, who now have softened some of their previous fears about borrowing money, might be encouraged to invest in the improvement of their rudimentary homes and living conditions, including the installation of ecological toilets (some of the best composting toilet are being introduced into the market, recent upgrades in the technology make it easier to consider the option). This amenity- sounding so essential to so many of us- has been considered an absolute luxury by many rural residents.  With the presence of the communal banks to accompany them, such an amenity now seems within reach, and along with it rises the self-esteem of the women who can provide it.  The existence of a small bank can allow these women to take control of their lives in ways they previously could not.

What can a bank do?  Merely channel the empowerment of its members, provide access to credit and tools for investment, facilitate education to recognize and respond to gender oppression, encourage healthy habitat conditions, grow self-esteem, foster economic autonomy and teach people how to take more control of their own lives.  In a world where the future for many banking institutions seems to include implosion, we could learn a great many lessons from these communal banks in Nicaragua.  It might even beg the question, “Who really is the more developed….?”

New Perspectives

In past entries here I’ve alluded to the development of research on rural cooperatives in Nicaragua and the effort to help small-scale producers to better reap the rewards of their work.  Winds of Peace has commissioned a study on cooperativism in Nicaragua so as to better understand the history and context of why the coops function as they do, and whether there are opportunities to strengthen them beyond basic funding.  The study has been undertaken by researchers Rene Mendoza and Edgar Fernandez, two well-respected, Nicaraguan practitioners of organizational and rural development.  The final draft of their work is revealing some important perspectives that have already been useful in Winds of Peace development of its programming and funding.  In particular, the study led to the development of two, three-day workshops that I have also recounted here in earlier entries.

The full content of the study is now available for reference by anyone with an interest in a new perspective on the cooperatives.  On the Winds of Peace site, look to the left side of the Home Page for Rural Development, and beneath that tab you will see the link to the study.  You will find that the opportunity for the rural producers, buyers, technical assistance personnel and even lenders is greater than what is currently being realized; with a little collaborative effort that circumstance can be significantly improved.  Take a look at what’s happening!

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

So now we hear of the attack on no less than Muhammad Yunus, creator of the microlending concept, founder of Grameen Bank in Bangladesh and the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize laureate.    Grameen is one of the most visible, successful and transformational microlending organizations in the world, and like most successful enterprises, its success has attracted the unwanted attentions of those who would have it for themselves.  In this case, Grameen has become the takeover target of the Bangladeshi government.  The current events have caused overwhelming public outrage in Bangladesh over the last week, as a Government takeover of the Bank would effectively result in the millions of borrower owners (and their families) of the Grameen Bank -who own 97% of the shares of the Bank- being disenfranchised.

If the Grameen bank were to lose its independence, then this unique model of microcredit would totally perish; indeed, the model is not only selfless (Grameen Bank is a nonprofit making organization), but it is also responsible (in the sense that all borrowers also place their savings in the bank), and of course democratic (as it is the borrowers who democratically elect 9 of the 12 members of the Board).

The main reason for the current attacks appears to be a blatant attempt to take control over a highly successful bank where the Government’s equity has dwindled to barely 3% (despite this, it still prevails on the Board because of the governance structure of the institution). This campaign could be also viewed as a deep rooted animosity. Speculations range from petty jealousy over Yunus’ Nobel Prize and his international fame to grievances against Yunus for his brief foray in Bangladeshi politics.

The Bangladesh Prime Minister, speaking in the Parliament, has famously accused the Nobel Peace Prize-winner of “bloodsucking the poor”. The trigger for the Prime Minister’s outburst was an unfounded report in a Norwegian TV channel broadcast on 30th November 2010 claiming that a misallocation of a Norwegian Government grant dating back to 1996.

This report was quickly refuted by the Government of Norway which declared on the official website of its Ministry of Foreign affairs “… there is no indication that Norwegian funds have been used for unintended purposes, or that Grameen Bank has engaged in corrupt practices or embezzled funds.”

One would have thought that the Norwegian declaration of a clean bill for Grameen Bank would have been the logical conclusion of a matter raised and addressed. The allegations appear even more surprising as Grameen Bank is audited annually by Bangladesh’s Central Bank as well as one of the “Big Four” accounting firms as the outside auditor.

And so the accusations flow.  There are other allegations against Dr. Yunus, all of which seem equally bogus upon review.  The reality is that Grameen Bank stands as a valuable asset and an icon of Bangladeshi success, both of which are highly needed by the Bangladeshi government these days.  If the work and reputation of Dr. Yunus is the price to be paid for an easy acquisition of money and status, then the government is unfortunately willing to pay it.

There have been few individuals who have left such a positive and imaginative legacy on the world as Dr. Muhammad Yunus.  It is both ironic and unjust that  one who has struggled so effectively to give opportunity and dignity to the impoverished of the world now stands on the threshold of betrayal, at the hands of those who can only understand the value of power and wealth for themselves.

There is a great deal more detailed information available at the Friends of Grameen website.    Visit there to learn about the fraud being perpetrated against some of the poorest and yet most successful people in the world.  Ultimately it is not Dr. Yunus who pays the price for this coup, but the borrowers and supporters of Grameen Bank….