Alex Counts is president, CEO and founder of Grameen Foundation, and author of several books, including Small Loans, Big Dreams: How Nobel Prize Winner Muhammad Yunus and Microfinance are Changing the World. The ongoing saga of the confrontation between the Bangladesh government and its allies in the local media on the one hand, and Professor Yunus, the Grameen Bank and its 8.3 million borrower-owners on the other, has taken some surprising turns in the last 10 days. On April 20, representatives of Grameen Bank’s employee association held a well-attended press conference, covered by The Daily Star and other print and electronic media, where they presented the signatures of 20,103 colleagues who urged the government to either allow Prof.
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At Grameen Foundation, our goal is to spur innovation in the global movement to eliminate extreme poverty. Part of that work is to develop better solutions and share them with people like you.
On GF Insights, we share lessons learned from our leaders in the field, news about efforts to expand access to financial and information services for the poor, and how poverty-focused organizations are using data to improve the way they work.
Smita Satiani is a guest blogger who attended Grameen Foundation’s Spring 2011 Gala on April 5, 2011. She currently works for the Clinton Foundation’s Economic Opportunity Initiative in Harlem, New York.
Grameen Foundation’s Spring 2011 Gala was held at 583 Park Avenue in New York City, and I was grateful to have the experience of attending such an inspirational and eye-opening event. The evening kicked off with a moving video message from Nobel Peace Laureate and Grameen Bank founder Muhammad Yunus, who electrified the room and opened the door to a night of ideas, knowledge sharing, and stories of success from around the globe.
After being treated to live entertainment from Ballet D’Afrique Djoniba, guests enjoyed messages from Paul Maritz, CEO of VMware and Chairman of Grameen Foundation’s Board of Directors, and Grameen Foundation President and CEO Alex Counts, both of whom illustrated their strong passion for microfinance and providing opportunities for individuals to escape poverty across the world. The Foundation also honored shoe designer Christian Louboutin for his “Peace of Shoe,” a limited-edition creation designed to benefit microfinance. (Grameen Foundation is a charity of choice for Christian Louboutin and received substantial funding through this promotion.) And Margaret Sirovatka, Vice President for J.P. Morgan’s Global Trade Advisory, gave a riveting personal account about her experiences as a volunteer in Tunisia for Grameen Foundation’s Bankers without Borders® program.
[caption id="attachment_1616" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Paul Maritz, CEO of VMware and Chairman of Grameen Foundation's Board of Directors, talked to guests about the power of the "double bottom line" for microfinance institutions, and how Grameen Foundation's Progress out of Poverty Index enables them to measure how well they are meeting their social goals"][/caption]
The final remarks of the evening were from Dolores Torres, President and CEO of CARD Bank, located in the Philippines. Initially formed as a replica of Grameen Bank, CARD is now the largest microfinance institution in the country. I have long believed in the work of the Grameen Foundation, but there is truly no better proof of the power of microfinance than to hear a woman like Ms. Torres speak about her successes in providing access to capital to millions of women and families in the Philippines alone.
Barbara Weber, who worked at Grameen Foundation from 2002 to 2006, was a Rotary International Ambassadorial Scholar in Bangladesh and is now working on her Ph.D. in depth psychology.
Bangladesh went from being dubbed the world’s basket case in 1973 by former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to becoming a beacon of development innovation that the rest of the world has since sought to emulate, thanks in large measure to its pioneering in microfinance. This renown is fast turning to infamy, however, as political vendetta cannibalizes the very source of the nation’s well-deserved pride.
The country’s acclaim reached a crescendo in 2006, when the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Grameen Bank and its founder, Professor Muhammad Yunus, for creating a system that has enabled the poor to pull themselves up by their boot straps. It has done this so effectively that its microfinance model has been studied exhaustively and replicated around the world.
What ensued next seems to have won Yunus the ire of the current prime minister, Sheikh Hasina. In 2007, the newly ordained Nobel laureate made a fleeting and ill-fated foray into politics in a vacuum that was created when a military-backed interim government began jailing operatives of the country’s top political parties. Sheikh Hasina herself was temporarily in exile and charged with masterminding crime.
[caption id="attachment_1599" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Prof. Yunus and most of the Board directors who represent the borrower-owners of Grameen Bank tour the streets of Oslo the day before receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006."][/caption]
Some saw this as a potential turning point for a country that had topped Transparency International’s list of the most corrupt governments in the world. Bangladesh was number-one on that list for five consecutive years. But when national elections were held in 2008, Sheikh Hasina – who had held the post of prime minister from 1996 to 2001 – again took office. Now, she and her party in power seem intent on systematically dismantling Grameen Bank.
In apparent collusion with the current government, the country’s highest court recently upheld the ouster of Grameen Bank’s founder as managing director. The Supreme Court will have one more opportunity to review the case in a ruling that is due on May 2. In the meantime, Prof. Yunus remains managing director of the Bank while the world watches attentively and awaits Bangladesh’s next move.
Jessica Osborn is the Business Development Manager for Grameen Foundation's MOTECH initiative.
MOTECH (Mobile Technology for Community Health) is an initiative of Grameen Foundation, Ghana Health Service and Columbia University that uses mobile phone-based technology to improve the quality of pre- and post-natal care for Ghanaian women and their families. MOTECH has developed an information service called Mobile Midwife, which delivers time-specific voice or text messages to pregnant mothers and their partners and families, both before and after birth. We have also built a simple Java-based application that enables nurses in rural Ghanaian health facilities to automate much of their record keeping and reporting, which used to take 4-6 days per month of their time. This application also makes it easier for nurses to identify patients who have missed certain care.