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The Grameen Insurgency

Posted on: 20th October 2010

On a wet and cold Tuesday evening in October I had the privilege of attending (as a guest of my good friend Ern Schumacher) a presentation by Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank and other Grameen enterprises. Both Mr Yunus and the bank were awarded the Nobel prize for Peace in 2006.

Mr. Yunus’s understated objective is “to achieve lasting peace by eradicating poverty”. The UN has in place an almost unreported plan to eradicate 50% of all poverty by 2015 (Millennium Development Goals). That being achieved, Mr. Yunus logically suggests a continuance until all poverty is eradicated.  His strategy is empowerment by means of micro loans to the poor to grow enterprise. With a delinquency rate that western banks can only dream of, over 8.3 million loans have been made and assumedly repaid. The children of the Grameen poor are the immediate beneficiaries as schooling and health become real options for them. These children seem, to me, to be the true focus of the Grameen philosophy. They have shown a propensity to fully exploit the education system and many make it to university.  So, crunch time has arrived for the Grameen project.  Will the children of the Grameen bank’s customers themselves continue the Grameen way, or will they be enticed by cash and bonus offers to serve the tarnished capitalist system of the western world.  I find myself hoping that the new Grameen generation will carry the uprising to all corners of the planet.  I sincerely hope they do not disappear into middle Asia just as the Hippie generation of the 1960’s disappeared into middle America.

In my Energy for Life (Eco village Concept) paper I describe a world within a world. The eco-villages with their own interlinked economies and value systems would emerge as an independent, hopefully moral, universe.  Mr. Yunus has activated a world within a world via Grameen’s bank loan and repayment vehicle. It is barely believable that the Grameen structure with 26,000 employees, lending new loans totalling $100 million every month, survives and thrives. Margins by European standards are wafer thin. But Grameen marches to a different drum and its beat is getting louder.

Grameen, recognising the need for some energy generation, has also moved into the alternative energy sector by producing small solar light systems for individual buildings. Terraintegra contends that widespread adequate electricity generation is a cornerstone of poverty eradication and Grameen may be moving in the same direction. Grameen focuses on alternative energy production (photovoltaic, bio-gas, low energy cooking stoves, e.t.c.). For the continued wellbeing of the planet, as Grameen succeeds and energises its vast community, it must successfully lead its community in parallel to deploy alternative energy generation.

Later in the evening, Mr. Anton Brender, Chief Economist at Dexia, with a teacher’s instinct, took the audience through a world of charts and graphs of which he is master. Mr. Brender did an admirable review of a turbulent capital system that is becoming increasingly unpredictable and unsure. The world he describes plods to a fluctuating drumbeat that is muted and confused. Mr. Brender is, however, confident of the future, a mood shared by Mr. Yunus.  Can both be right? Do they “share a single garment of destiny”? Can Grameen glide by, unruffled by the peaks and troughs of European and American finance. Perhaps?

If Grameen is to survive and thrive, it must continue to live within and expand its world. That world is already expanding, but not yet at the expense of the capitalist world. It gathers together the world’s poor and underprivileged, those unwanted by the capitalist world. But, the great unwanted will become empowered by such inclusion. As the world’s poor become enfranchised, they will muster the capability to re-direct both worlds. How will these, many million, children of beggars, farmers, basket weavers and scrap dealers respond? The two worlds will collide.  If poverty is to be eradicated in the time allocated, that collision will come soon.

Mr. Yunus spoke (unprompted as far as I was concerned) directly to the 1,000 or so bankers and bank customers in the vast and beautiful Philharmonie in Luxembourg. He was not daunted. He was also a banker, if of a different hue.  His image was projected on a large screen behind him and during the evening he seemed to grow to fill the large image. His compassion, conviction, energy and optimism shone through every sentence. His drawing, in the mind’s eye, of a doctor daughter and illiterate mother was particularly powerful. His realisation that the mother could have been a doctor too if poverty had not blocked her route, was especially moving. He said “poverty is not created by poor people, poverty is created by the system”. He is on a mission. Eradicate all poverty and bring peace to the world by 2030. Not quite impossible!

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