At the Knee of Muhammad Yunus: Stories of Hope and a New Way of Seeing the World

Authored by: Sam Daley-Harris

It usually begins the same way.  I am sitting with hundreds of others in a lecture hall or hotel meeting room waiting for a speech by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and Grameen Bank Founder Muhammad Yunus.  Most of the others in the room will be hearing him speak for the first time, but for me it might be the 50th or 60th time.   None of them will forget the first time they heard Muhammad Yunus speak and neither can I.  

I first heard him speak in 1987.  He would join the board of RESULTS in 1988, the anti-poverty lobby I founded 36 years ago.  His talks usually fall into the mind-blowing category.  Here are a few examples keyed toward the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

SDG #4: Eliminate Preventable Child Deaths by 2030

Now I can buy sweets for all of the children in the village.  

We were on a flight to Seattle when Professor Yunus told me that Grameen Bank would receive the King Baudouin Award for 1992-1993.  The King of Belgium offered the prize to spotlight innovative initiatives which improve quality-of-life and empower local communities to take development into their own hands.  The foundation’s staff encouraged Professor Yunus to bring one of Grameen Bank’s staff to the award ceremony.  

“I will bring one of the staff,” Professor Yunus told the award administrators, “and I will also bring one of the Grameen Bank borrowers.”

“You can’t bring a women from a village in Bangladesh to meet the King,” they replied.

“The King should meet the borrowers,” Yunus responded.

At this point in the story I turn to Professor Yunus and say, “But the borrower has never even seen an airplane much less flown in one.”

“That is right,” Professor Yunus replied, “she has not seen an airplane, but let me give you an example of the reality of her life.  We were having a meeting of 100 center chiefs at our office in Dhaka, the capitol city.  The meeting was on the second floor of our building.  I asked the women to raise their hand if they had never been on the second floor before.  Almost every one of them raised her hand.”   

After the award ceremony and I asked Professor Yunus how it went and what the borrower’s experience was.

“It went very well,” he replied. “We selected one of the nine borrowers who sit on the Grameen Bank board and had a female member of our staff accompany her to Belgium.  We showed her films of what to expect in a large city in the more developed world and helped her prepare in other ways.  In Brussels she spoke at a news conference, at the university, and spoke with King Baudouin.

“The King and all the others were very moved by her remarks.  She told them that before she joined Grameen Bank she was very poor.  Her son was very ill and just before he died he asked for sweets, but she didn’t have enough money to buy sweets for her son before he died.  Later she joined Grameen Bank and became very successful.  She told them that now she can buy sweets for all the children in her village, but earlier she couldn’t afford sweets for her son before he died.”

At the Knee of Muhammad Yunus- Stories of Hope and a New Way of Seeing the World (1)

SDG #4: Every child completes secondary school by 2030

My son is going to college next year

The microfinance field has been heralded as an exciting new way to attack poverty.  One story that demonstrates its potential as a transformational intervention centers on a visit to Bangladesh more than 20 years ago.  A friend from the U.S., Lynn McMullen, was interviewing a Grameen Bank borrower in a rural village when the interpreter said the borrower wanted Lynn to know that her son was starting college the next year.  Lynn’s son was also starting college the next year and she offered a brief congratulations.  When the interpreter interrupted a second time to tell Lynn that her son was starting college next year, Lynn knew there must be more to the story.  

“Can you or your husband read or write?” Lynn asked.

“No,” the woman answered.

“Could your mother or father read or write?” Lynn continued.

“No,” the client answered.

“Could your husband’s mother or father read or write?” Lynn inquired.

“No,” the client replied.

Finally Lynn realized we have a son going to college from a family whose ancestors have probably never been able to read or write, much less been able to attend college. She offered her deepest congratulations.  This is the potential of microfinance for the very poor—the potential to break the bonds of intergenerational illiteracy and with that, intergenerational poverty. John Hatch, the founder of FINCA has often said that the sustainable end of poverty does not occur in the first generation but with the education of the second generation.

SDG #1 and 3: Eliminate Extreme Poverty and Gender Equality

What was the impact of Grameen Bank on the husbands of non-borrowers?

In about 1995 Dan Zuckerberg and his wife Laurie Herrick were speaking with a group of 40 clients at a Grameen Bank center in rural Bangladesh. Through a translator, they asked the 40 women what impact the bank had had on the husbands of the non-borrowers; not their husbands, but the husbands of women who are not with the bank. After a brief clarification and discussion, one of the clients said, “Before we took our loans, our husbands were day-laborers, working for others whenever they could find work. When we took our loans our husbands stopped being day-laborers and worked with us renting a bicycle rickshaw, husking rice, or growing garlic on leased land. This caused a shortage of day-laborers in this area, so the husbands of the non-borrowers who were day-laborers, their wages went up.  That was the impact of this bank on the husbands of the non-borrowers.”

Imagine what might happen when high quality microfinance grows.  How many other families might benefit who are not among the clients?

Sam Daley-Harris founded in anti-poverty lobby RESULTS in 1980 (www.results.org), co-founded the Microcredit Summit Campaign with Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Muhammad Yunus and FINCA founder John Hatch in 1995 (www.microcreditsummit.org), and founded the Center for Citizen Empowerment and Transformation (www.citizenempowermentandtransformation.org) in 2012.  The 20th anniversary edition of his book: Reclaiming Our Democracy: Healing the Break between People and Government (www.reclaimingourdemocracy.org) was released in 2013.  In 2010, Ashoka founder Bill Drayton wrote, “Sam Daley-Harris is one of the certified great social entrepreneurs of the last decades.”

 

3 Responses to “At the Knee of Muhammad Yunus: Stories of Hope and a New Way of Seeing the World

  • Helen Samett
    4 years ago

    Congratulations Sam for all you have done and continue to do to help end world-wide poverty! You are indeed “one of the certified great social entrepreneurs of the last decades.” I am so proud to have been a partner in RESULTS since its inception and to have worked with you in bringing awareness to the world about this problem. I have been privileged to hear Prof. Yunus speak and tell his stories many times, and most of all, I am so proud to have arranged a meeting for Prof. Yunus to meet with George Soros years ago when I was working for Lockheed Martin. If I recall, Mr, Soros was so impressed with Prof. Yunus that he contributed $10M to his Foundation. RESULTS has come a long way, and now at age 95, I look back with pride at all the successes RESULTS volunteers have accomplished, and remember all the wonderful conferences I attended with them in D.C. Keep the fires burning, Sam, you are my hero!

  • Fabulous stories. Sam is expert at reminding all of us about the difference microfinance makes in the lives of real people. thanks Sam.

Trackbacks & Pings

  • Advocate Update March 2016 - RESULTS :

    […] I loved watching Lucy Perry speaking at Fearless 2015 (thanks for the hot tip Leila!) and reading At the Knee of Muhammad Yunus, stories of hope from Sam Daley-Harris about the power of microfinance (and enterprising women) to […]

    4 years ago

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