Poverty, population, and the Grameen Bank

The biosphere together with its human population is a complex system. There is a combinatorially large number of possible pathways to the future. Pundits who say that there is no hope for the future -- no escape from the worst effects of poverty, population growth, tribal conflict, mass migration, and so on, have simply missed some of the possibilities. Probably they have not even heard of microcredit (microlending, microfinance) and the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh.

By releasing millions of women from economic slavery and child-bearing slavery, and giving them back their dignity, personal autonomy and enterprising spirit, this remarkable organization has already alleviated poverty and stemmed population growth. It has no dependence on charity. It works by smart thinking and very small loans. Its current rules of operation are summarized here.

A one-minute introduction is available from the Brigham Young University Support Group, which includes the following quote from the founder of the Bank, Muhammad Yunus: 'When we started the Grameen Bank, pessimists told us again and again that what we were attempting to do could not be done.' Yunus engagingly tells the story in his own words here.

See also, for instance, David Bornstein (1996), The Price of a Dream: the story of the Grameen Bank and the idea that is helping the poor to change their lives, University of Chicago Press, ISBN 0-226-06644-4 and Simon & Schuster, ISBN 0-684-81191-X. Yunus won the 1994 Prize from the World Food Prize Foundation. An older web page still in existence is this one. It contains some useful references. Further information can probably be obtained by using Google or other good search engines on exact phrases like "Virtual Library on Microcredit", "World Food Prize Foundation", etc.

The number of pathways to the future is indeed far, far greater than we can imagine. But we know that human beings can be prodigiously adaptable, given the ghost of a chance. The pundits are wrong, and will be wrong again.

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Copyright © Michael E. McIntyre 2000. Last updated 5 October 2006