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Nobel Laureate Yunus Talks Poverty at Global Forum

April 18, 2009 – Muhammad Yunus, microcredit pioneer and 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner, has a great idea for a horror movie. The movie would be about a world without banks. A world with no ATMs, no ready access to money, no one willing to lend you money. 

If you are poor, this world already exists, he says. “Two-thirds of the world’s population lives that way every day.”

Yunus told that story as a keynote speaker at the Georgetown Global Forum on April 17 in New York. The forum, “Profit, Policy & Philanthropy: The Keys to Global Development,” brought together leaders from government, corporations, nongovernmental and philanthropic organizations to share experiences and best practices in addressing the world’s most pressing challenges, including poverty, access to education and health. 

Small Loans, Huge Impact

Yunus founded Grameen Bank in his native Bangladesh in 1983 to grant microloans to entrepreneurs. His bank model has proven that even tiny loans can lift people out of poverty while serving as a sound investment practice.

Grameen Bank functions similarly to a traditional bank in many respects -- its revenue is from the interest paid by borrowers, for example, but the lending model is built on a system of trust, recognition of potential and personal responsibility rather than collateral, Yunus said.

The irony of Grameen America’s viability, investment in the poor and 99.6 percent repayment rate considered against the collapse of great American banks has not gone unnoticed by Yunus.

“We have to make financial systems more inclusive,” Yunus said at the Georgetown Global Forum. “The existing systems are exclusive clubs for privileged people.”

Though the current global economy is in crisis, this could be the prime time to retool and reconceptualize the financial system.

“This is a big crisis, but it is also a great opportunity,” Yunus said. “When the financial crisis has passed, we cannot return to the same normalcy we came from.”

Visions of a ‘Poverty Museum’ 

Poverty is not in a person; it is something society imposes on them, according to the Nobel laureate who has spent decades enabling some of those who are most in need gain means toward productivity. “We need to say ‘goodbye’ to poverty,” Yunus told the Global Forum audience. 

In fact, he imagines a “poverty museum.” Not to honor or celebrate poverty, he said, “but a place where, if our children or grandchildren ask us what poverty is, we would have to take them to see it.”

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