ECONOMY

Yunus sets out radical vision of ending poverty

Poverty is not an inescapable aspect of the human condition and any country, regardless of its level of development, can tackle the phenomenon by applying the right policies, Bangladeshi Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus said in Athens yesterday. «All human beings are born entrepreneurs. Poverty is not the fault of those affected but rather of the system which deprives them of the right opportunities,» he said in an address at the European Foundation for Quality Management (EFQM) forum. Yunus has ample evidence to back his claim. Grameen (meaning «Village») Bank, which he founded in Bangladesh in 1983, has lent small sums to millions of poor people who have put it to good use and managed to escape poverty. The bank now has 7.5 million customers, 97 percent of them women, to whom no other bank in the world would be willing to lend, fearing it would never recover the money. «We work with some of the poorest people in the world and 99 percent of them repay the loans on schedule,» Yunus said. Grameen Bank, whose shareholders are the depositors themselves, is what Yunus calls a model of social enterprise. Women, he said, seem to manage money better and be more determined to escape poverty than men. The curious thing, he noted, is that women, largely due to conservative social norms, were the most reluctant to become borrowers. But after persistent efforts, the idea of «microcredit» caught on and then snowballed. Sixty-four percent of all Grameen borrowers have managed to rise above the poverty level. Yunus said the deprivation of any form of credit to an estimated two-thirds of mankind is a form of «financial apartheid.» In 2006, Grameen set up a joint «social» venture with French dairy group Danone which provides vitamin-fortified products to large numbers of malnourished children in Bangladesh.