Grameen Foundation Insights

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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.

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08/17/2010 by

Grameen Foundation supporter and actress Yeardley Smith (voice of “Lisa Simpson” on the popular TV show The Simpsons) and President and CEO Alex Counts traveled to Bangladesh in late July 2010. They visited Grameen Bank and some of the other enterprises Professor Yunus has launched to accelerate poverty reduction.  This is Alex’s fifth and final blog post chronicling their visit.

My trip to Bangladesh with Yeardley Smith and the rest of our delegation was a terrific learning experience. It proved to be a window into a possible future for microfinance, since Grameen Bank, its affiliated companies, and other groups in Bangladesh are far ahead of the rest of the movement in many ways.

On the morning of our sixth day, we were joined by three French interns with Grameen-Danone. The original social business focused on combating malnutrition and poverty, Grameen-Danone produces fortified yogurt and engages the poor in the production and sales processes.  First stop was one of four collection points where Grameen-Danone contractors test and purchase milk from local farmers, including quite a few Grameen borrowers.  They set up in a convenient location and guarantee a fixed price all year round—both of which, based on random interviews I conducted, are appreciated by the local people even if they can occasionally get a higher price in local markets miles away.

[caption id="attachment_893" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Yeardley and Alex at the Yogurt Factory"][/caption]

Then we went to a cooling station where the daily milk collections are stored for a few hours before being sent to the Grameen-Danone plant.  (Everything is transported using local rickshaw pullers and “baby taxi”—three-wheelers—drivers on contract.  The time from milk collection to yogurt in a cup ready to be sold or shipped is just 36 hours!)

08/16/2010 by

Grameen Foundation supporter and actress Yeardley Smith (voice of “Lisa Simpson” on the popular TV show The Simpsons) and President and CEO Alex Counts traveled to Bangladesh in late July 2010. They visited Grameen Bank and some of the other enterprises Professor Yunus has launched to accelerate poverty reduction.  This is Alex’s fourth blog post chronicling their visit.

Yeardley and I began our fifth day in Bangladesh with a two-hour meeting with Professor Yunus.  He was as warm, gracious and engaging as always.  We discussed his debut as a character on an upcoming episode of The Simpsons and Yeardley’s reactions to her field trips (her main take-away: “Bangladeshis seem very busy!”).

08/12/2010 by

GF supporter and actress Yeardley Smith (voice of “Lisa Simpson” on the popular TV show The Simpsons) and President and CEO Alex Counts traveled to Bangladesh in late July 2010. They visited Grameen Bank and some of the other enterprises Professor Yunus has launched to accelerate poverty reduction.  This is Alex’s third blog post chronicling their visit.

Our third day in Bangladesh was a day of rest. On day four, the five of us headed to Gazipur, north of Dhaka.  Although Saturday is a bank holiday, it’s a working day for Grameen Shikkha, the arm of the Grameen family of companies that promotes education.

08/09/2010 by

GF supporter and actress Yeardley Smith (voice of “Lisa Simpson” on the popular TV show The Simpsons) and President and CEO Alex Counts traveled to Bangladesh in late July 2010. They visited Grameen Bank and some of the other enterprises Professor Yunus has launched to accelerate poverty reduction. This is Alex’s second blog post chronicling their visit.

At 8 am, we departed our Dhaka hotel in a van with a driver and a guide from Jannat’s international training team, heading to the Gorai Mirzapur branch, about fifty miles northeast of the capital. This, however, turned out to be something of a mistake as we hit rush hour traffic again. Somehow we managed to arrive for a borrowers (or center) meeting at 10:05 am, only five minutes late. We were joined by Andy Pleatman, a Hong Kong-based financial supporter of Grameen Foundation, and his daughter Kim. Over the next forty minutes, we had a spirited discussion with 60 Grameen members that pushed my translation skills to the limits and beyond.

[caption id="attachment_866" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Alex speaking and translating at Gorai Mirzapur branch office"][/caption]

One woman shared how she had taken a Tk. 1,000 (about $15) loan 22 years ago and now was able to borrow and productively invest 30 times that amount in raising livestock and shopkeeping. Another proudly spoke about the three cows she now owned free and clear after taking a loan to buy them. Several mentioned that they’d built houses nearby to rent out to laborers who migrated to the area for work in new factories nearby. When we asked the newest borrowers (i.e., less than three years in Grameen) to stand up, their lack of self-confidence in addressing us starkly contrasted with those who had been borrowing longer. Also striking was how few children all of the women had—all the ones we asked had one or two.

[caption id="attachment_865" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Rokeya and her Daughter"][/caption]

After the meeting, our group went to visit a few borrowers’ homes. One borrower, Rokeya Begum, had been widowed soon after her third child was born. With Grameen loans, she grew several businesses (many based on raising livestock) and then built a house where seven laborers now live and pay her rent. She’d sent her son to Singapore to work. He sent back earnings for a while, but he was killed in a tragic accident soon after he’d returned to Bangladesh. We met his widow as we left and expressed our condolences, hoping that she had the same fighting spirit as Rokeya.

08/05/2010 by

GF supporter and actress Yeardley Smith (voice of “Lisa Simpson” on the popular TV show The Simpsons) and President and CEO Alex Counts traveled to Bangladesh in late July 2010. They visited Grameen Bank and some of the other enterprises Professor Yunus has launched to accelerate poverty reduction. This is Alex’s first blog post chronicling their visit.

Yeardley’s and my flight arrived at Dhaka’s International airport one hour late, after which we had the pleasure of navigating Dhaka’s ever-worsening traffic to get to our hotel. During lunch, I prepared her for the days to come, explaining that this trip would be different from the time we spent in May 2009 witnessing microfinance in Haiti. We then started for the Grameen Complex in Mirpur—traffic stretched a usually short trip to 45 minutes.

To get a sense of Grameen’s 30-year history, we met with three individuals who were with Professor Yunus during the organization’s nascent years in the mid-1970s.

In her new role as General Manager, Jannat Quanine oversees all of Grameen Bank’s international programs. She receives and provides exposure and training to a delegation of foreigners—from senior government officials to curious students—who want to learn about Grameen. As we sat with her, she received a call about two ministers from India who wanted to visit the following week. (I suspected that in the days ahead, she’d have her hands full preparing for that one visit.)

Jannat explained to Yeardley what it was like during the early years with Professor Yunus—before the worldwide acclaim for his achievements in reducing poverty, which spawned a global financial services industry for poor women. She also explained the itinerary for our six days in Bangladesh—her team had worked out every detail.

After meeting with Jannat, we visited Nurjahan Begum, Grameen’s Deputy Managing Director and Grameen Foundation Board member. She told us about Grameen Bank’s recent growth and talked about its sister organization, Grameen Shikkha. (Shikkha means “education” in Bengali.) Nurjahan is the organization’s nonsalaried CEO. She’s barely five feet tall, but pound for pound, she’s the most potent force for poverty reduction and women’s empowerment I’ve ever met!

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