A mes­siah for the poor

Dr. Muhammad Yunus re­cently turned down a nom­i­na­tion for Pres­i­dent of the World Bank. But what does this mes­siah for the poor sym­bol­ize for the de­vel­op­ing world?

Southasia - - Contents - By Dr. Moo­nis Ah­mar

Dr. Muhammad Yunus may be Bangladesh’s only hope

for a poverty-free to­mor­row

On 22 Fe­bru­ary 2012, Bangladeshi Prime Min­is­ter, Sheikh Hasina re­quested the vis­it­ing mem­ber of the Euro­pean Union Par­lia­ment, Jean Lam­bert to sup­port the can­di­da­ture of No­bel Lau­re­ate and leg­endary fig­ure, Dr. Muhammad Yunus as Pres­i­dent of the World Bank. The slot will fall va­cant af­ter the re­tire­ment of cur­rent Pres­i­dent, Robert Zoel­lick on June 30 and a num­ber of con­tenders have al­ready en­tered the race to win the po­si­tion.

Sheikh Hasina’s pro­posal to sup­port Dr. Yunus for the World Bank’s top slot came as a sur­prise to many. Ac­cord­ing to the AFP re­port of April 5 2011, Dr. Yunus was forced to leave Grameen Bank, suc­cumb­ing to op­po­si­tion from the Prime Min­is­ter and the ver­dict of the Supreme Court that re­moved him from that po­si­tion. Fur­ther­more, his sup­port­ers ar­gued that “he was vic­tim­ized by the Prime Min­is­ter whom he crossed in 2007 when he set up a po­lit­i­cal party dur­ing the mil­i­tary-backed care­taker gov­ern­ment. In De­cem­ber, 2010, fol­low­ing the re­lease of a Nor­we­gian TV doc­u­men­tary crit­i­cal of Yunus, Hasina ac­cused him of suck­ing blood from the poor and pulling a fi­nan­cial trick to avoid pay­ing taxes.” The po­si­tion taken by Dr. Yunus dur­ing the care­taker gov­ern­ment was meant to pro­vide an al­ter­na­tive to the Bangladeshi peo­ple as the two po­lit­i­cal par­ties, Awami League (AL) and Bangladesh Na­tion­al­ist Party (BNP). He later with­drew his po­lit­i­cal agenda, which was ap­par­ently backed by the mil­i­tary es­tab­lish­ment.

There are four ma­jor rea­sons to jus­tify why Dr. Muhammad Yunus is an as­set not only to Bangladesh but to South Asia and the de­vel­op­ing world. The Beg­gars’ Pro­gram, which started with 1,000 beg­gars and is now reach­ing 100,000, helped mit­i­gate the men­ace of beg­ging in Bangladesh. Ac­cord­ing to the pro­gram, beg­gars were loaned $15 per bor­rower to sell goods for profit. Yunus’s in­no­va­tion to al­levi-

ate poverty through so­cial busi­ness is con­sid­ered a land­mark and mile­stone in un­der­stand­ing the dy­nam­ics of so­cial back­ward­ness.

So­cial busi­ness il­lus­trates a “cause driven busi­ness. In a so­cial busi­ness, the in­vestors or own­ers can grad­u­ally re­coup the money in­vested, but can­not take any div­i­dend be­yond that point. No per­sonal gain is de­sired by the in­vestor. The im­pact of so­cial busi­ness is on the peo­ple or en­vi­ron­ment, rather the amount of profit made in a given pe­riod.” It is be­cause of his life-long ded­i­ca­tion and com­mit­ment to im­prove the lives of the poor that led to the in­no­va­tion of a “so­cial busi­ness” con­cept (a fact, which is also rec­og­nized in the de­vel­oped world), earn­ing Yunus the ti­tle of “Mes­siah.”

Se­condly, af­ter re­ceiv­ing his PH.D in Eco­nom­ics in 1969 and re­turn­ing to Bangladesh in 1974, Yunus launched mi­cro-credit fi­nanc­ing. An econ­o­mist with a non-tra­di­tional ap­proach, he joined the Depart­ment of Eco­nom­ics at Chit­tagong Univer­sity. His vi­sion of poverty al­le­vi­a­tion clicked when in 1974 he con­ceived and pre­sented the idea of Gram Sarker at the vil­lage level to re­duce ru­ral poverty. He opened the Grameen Bank, which trans­formed the face of ru­ral Bangladesh, par­tic­u­larly the women. Presently, the Grameen Bank op­er­ates 1,092 branches in 36,000 vil­lages of Bangladesh, pro­vid­ing credit to over two mil­lion poor peo­ple with a cap­i­tal of ap­prox­i­mately US$2 bil­lion. The ben­e­fi­cia­ries of Dr. Yunus’s vi­sion of mi­cro­cre­dit are the ru­ral poor and pri­mar­ily women. How­ever, Yunus’s vi­sion of poverty al­le­vi­a­tion has faced heated crit­i­cism. As is com­mon in many post-colo­nial states, peo­ple sus­pected his in­ten­tions to the ex­tent that Sheikh Hasina and other politi­cians charged him of us­ing Grameen bank and his mi­cro-credit schemes for per­sonal ben­e­fit. De­spite all such al­le­ga­tions, Dr. Yunus’s im­age and rep­u­ta­tion re­mains un­blem­ished and un­tar­nished.

Thirdly, the prin­ci­pled po­si­tion taken by Dr. Yunus re­gard­ing his nom­i­na­tion as the Pres­i­dent of World Bank is ad­mirable. He out­lined his reser­va­tions about the func­tion­ing of the Bank and ques­tioned why a U.S cit­i­zen al­ways leads it. Crit­i­ciz­ing the Bank for do­ing lit­tle to ame­lio­rate poverty, Yunus lamented that, “de­spite its slo­gan of work­ing for a World Free of Poverty, the World Bank has con­sis­tently failed to pro­vide pro­gram fund­ing for mi­cro credit.” He has re­quested the World Bank “to in­crease its fund­ing of mi­cro credit pro­grams” so that ef­fec­tive steps are taken for the al­le­vi­a­tion of global poverty. Dr. Yunus urged the in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tion to in­crease in­vest­ment in mi­cro credit to 2 per­cent of pro­gram spend­ing, of which 50 per­cent of the amount should be re­served for those liv­ing on less than a dol­lar a day. It is be­cause of his reser­va­tions that Dr. Yunus re­fused to ac­cept the nom­i­na­tion for the Pres­i­dent of World Bank as ac­cord­ing to him, “he has ded­i­cated his life to so­cial busi­ness.” He stated that, “I have been a reg­u­lar critic of the World Bank for its poli­cies and pro­grams. My crit­i­cism also in­cluded the fact that this Bank’s high­est post is al­ways re­served for an Amer­i­can cit­i­zen. I never thought of tak­ing up the job of the World Bank. The World Bank should be turned into a bank for the poor with the aim of ul­ti­mately di­min­ish­ing poverty world­wide.”

Fi­nally, as a celebrity and be­cause of his life-long con­tri­bu­tion to the poor, Dr. Muhammad Yunus is above the top slot of the World Bank. Yunus re­al­ized that the enor­mous clout pos- sessed by the Group of Seven in the func­tion­ing of World Bank will make him in­ef­fec­tive as the Bank’s Pres­i­dent to take steps for the al­le­vi­a­tion of poverty. Around 60% of the Bank’s hold­ings and cap­i­tal be­long to the G-7 coun­tries with very lit­tle or no voice for the de­vel­op­ing world in the pol­icy mat­ters of the Bank. Had Dr. Yunus been nom­i­nated and se­lected as the Pres­i­dent of World Bank, his main pri­or­ity, to im­prove the so­cial and eco­nomic con­di­tions of the ru­ral poor, would not have matched with the pri­or­i­ties of a Western-cen­tric bank.

In view of Dr. Yunus’s achieve­ments to al­le­vi­ate poverty, SAARC should seek his ser­vices and cre­ate a slot at the or­ga­ni­za­tional level in the field of em­pow­er­ing the poor, par­tic­u­larly women. The UN Sec­re­tary Gen­eral had ap­pointed Dr. Yunus to the In­ter­na­tional Ad­vi­sory Group for the Fourth World Con­fer­ence on Women in Bei­jing from 1993-1995. He also served on the Global Com­mis­sion of Women’s Health (1993-1995), the Ad­vi­sory Coun­cil for Sus­tain­able Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment (1993 to present) and the UN Ex­pert Group on Women and Fi­nance. Fur­ther­more, he served as the chair of Pol­icy Ad­vi­sor Group of Con­sul­ta­tive Group to As­sist the Poor­est.

Around 25 per­cent of the peo­ple of South Asia live be­low the poverty line or sur­vive on un­der $1 a day. The in­no­va­tive ideas of Dr. Yunus to tar­get is­sues that deepen so­cial back­ward­ness and un­der-de­vel­op­ment lead­ing to the dis­em­pow­er­ment of the peo­ple can prove im­mensely use­ful for South Asia.

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