According to the organization's web site:
The Grameen Bank provides credit to the poorest of the poor in rural Bangladesh, without any collateral. . . . As of May 2006, it has 6.61 million borrowers, 97 percent of whom are women. With 2,226 branches, GB provides services in 71,371 villages, covering more than 100 percent of the total villages in Bangladesh.When Frances Moore Lappé and Anna Lappé wrote their book, Hope's Edge: The Next Diet for a Small Planet, they met Professor Yanus who told them about how he started the Grameen Bank. In the mid-70s, there was a famine in Bangladesh while Professor Yanus was the Head of the Rural Economics Program at the University of Chittagong. Yanus told the Lappés,
"I came to the conclusion that these theories were useless for these dying people. . . I realized that I could help people as a human being, not as an economist. So I decided to become a basic human being."Through talking with poor people, he came to realize that most of them did not own land and that to earn money they made things. To make things, they had to borrow money to buy materials, but once they paid the lender back with interest, there wasn't enough to live on.
Yunus' first loan was from his own pocket, $27 for 42 people. When he went to a bank to ask if they would help, he was told that the bank wouldn't give loans to people who didn't have collateral, even though Yanus showed the bank evidence that the loans he was continuing to give out of his own pocket were being repaid.
So he decided to start his own bank. He told the Lappés,
"People always ask me, 'How did you get these ideas about lending to the poor?' I say: I knew I had to change the institutions themselves, and whenever I didn't know what to do I would look at the banks, and whatever they did, I did just the opposite. Every time I got into difficulty, I would just reverse the way banks do things, and that became the Grameen Bank."You can learn more about the Grameen Bank and Muhammad Yunus watching The New Heroes, a PBS series that profiles 14 social entrepreneurs and is available on DVD, by reading Yunus' memoir, Banker to the Poor: Microlending and the Battle Against World Poverty, or watching this video by the Grameen Foundation USA on YouTube.
Photo Credit: "With Grameen borrowers preparing yarn for weaving" from the Grameen Bank web site.