Dr. Yunus, “Banker to the Poor”

I’ve just finished Dr. Muhammad Yunus’s book, “Banker to the Poor.” For those who don’t know Dr. Yunus, he is an economist who founded the Grameen Bank, which pioneered micro-credit lending programs for Bangladesh poor, especially women. For his work with Grameen Bank he won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize.

The over 270 pages is broken into 14 very readable chapters. The first couple deal with Dr. Yunus’s childhood through his college years in America on a Fulbright scholarship. But the majority of the book deals directly with his awaking to the plight of what he calls the hard-core or absolute poor, his initial attempt to help (lending $27.00 of his own money to 42 people), his first regional project which eventually led to the founding of the Grameen Bank.

It seems like a simple solution that Dr. Yunus hit upon, but there have been and continue to be many structural obstacles. He writes, “In both rich and poor countries alike, credit institutions have favored the rich and in so doing have pronounced a death sentence on the poor. Why have economists remained silent while banks rejected the poor as unworthy of credit? Nobody can provide a convincing answer. Because of this silence and indifference, banks have imposed a financial apartheid and gotten away with it. If economists would only recognize the powerful socioeconomic implications of credit, they might recognize the need to promote credit as a human right.”

I really think micro-lending is a powerful tool for good and justice and Dr. Yunus’s story and work is worth leading about. In reading this book you will learn some important insights and gain a unique perspective on the poor and their willingness to work.

Kiva Update

To put feet to my belief, I joined Kiva (Kiva.org) last fall and started funding micro-loans through their network. Since I can’t afford to put a large amount into loans up front, I’ve been funding a small amount each month. I just did my March funding and now have loans to 11 individuals. Eight have started repayments and two are over 50% paid off.

I’m curious to hear from others who know about or participate a micro-lending scheme.

  • What has been your experience?
  • Who do you work through to make or fund loans?
  • Any downsides or cautions others should know about?

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28 Responses to “Dr. Yunus, “Banker to the Poor””

  1. tk says:

    Hey Rick,

    This is third time in a month I have heard about Doctor Yunus and his work with Micro-Finance. I may be a little slow but I get when someone is trying to tell me something Thanks for the link to Kiva.org.

    peace and prayers,

    tk

  2. brad grinnen says:

    hey rick,

    my wife and i are have just started the process by praying through this venture and seeking direction. we were first made aware of dr yunus through the mars hill community and rob bell. we would both love to hear all that you have to share in regards to your involvement. we are both committed to this and believe in kiva. when you get the chance could you either post more on your experience, how you got started, where you discovered kiva, the extent of your hopes in micro-finance, etc. or email us?

    thank you so much.

    brad

  3. Bryan Riley says:

    Why is it better to lend than simply to give? I’m not at all making a judgment; I am legitimately asking thoughts on this.

  4. Rick Meigs says:

    tk, must be a God thing, aye.

  5. Rick Meigs says:

    Brad: The whole Kiva thing has been a good experience for us. Easy to do, direct interaction with the borrowers, and good progress reports. You feel more involved that just sending a check to some organization.

    I discovered Kiva while looking for information on micro-lending on the Internet. I had read about Dr. Yunus in a Wall Street Journal article a few years before, and decided to do so more research. After I made my first loan, I did a post and was surprised that a couple of other bloggers I had gotten to know (like John Lunt) were also doing Kiva. It has been fun to compare notes.

    For me micro-lending is a simple way to reach down to the very poor of the poor and lend a helping hand, and it is also a justice issue with me. They are no longer marginalize (at least in the area of credit) and ignored. Some one sees them and trusts them.

    Micro-lending is not a cure all, but it is just one more little thing I can do to make a small difference in this world.

  6. Rick Meigs says:

    Bryan: GREAT question and I would love to hear what others might have to say on it.

    First, there are great organization who have taken the concept and applied it using grants instead of loans. The Village Enterprise Fund is one such group.

    In reading Dr. Yunus, I see at least two reasons why they lend the money instead of making grants.

    1) They wanted Grameen Bank self supporting and free of any strings, i.e., not wanting to go back to big donors for more funding all the time and therefore under their control.

    2) There seems to be something very empowering to the poor about making a loan verses just giving them the funds. There is a greater sense that you are trusting them with your money and believe in them. Here was just one story to illustrate:

    A prospective borrower finally receives her first $25 loan. She is trembling and tears roll down her face. Dr. Yunus picks up the story, “All her life she has been told that she is no good, that she brings only misery to her family, and that they cannot afford to pay her dowry. Many times she hears her mother or her father tell her she should have been killed at birth, aborted, or starved. To her family she has been nothing but another mouth to feed, another dowry to pay. But today, for the first time in her life, an institution has trusted her with a great sum of money. She promises that she will never let down the institution or herself. She will struggle to make sure that every penny is paid back.”

    Somebody trusted her, saw that she had worth! All for $25.00 – so much for so little.

    I can tell you that I have tears rolling down my face just typing this story out.

  7. brad grinnen says:

    rick,

    my wife, danielle, and i have created a profile at kiva and have already bookmarked two potential borrowers. your post was another gentle prod from God that lit a fire under us to ‘move-on’ in the process.

    the site (kiva) seems tremendously easy to navigate and we really are jazzed about the communication abilities and the opportunity to follow along with progress reports. this will make it easier to pray for the borrower as well we’re thinking.

    we look forward to comparing notes as well. thanks again for the post.

    brad

  8. Rick Meigs says:

    That is so cool Brad. Look forward to seeing some blog posts on your experience.

    For those who would like more information, I just remember that Frontline did a story on Kiva called “UGANDA: A Little Goes a Long Way.”

  9. Paul says:

    excedllent impact post rick – i have been meaning to do this for awhile and this gave me the kick up the backside i needed!
    thank you!!

  10. Rick Meigs says:

    Super Paul. And do blog on your experience. I’d love to hear how it is going.

  11. Wayne Park says:

    Thanks for your post – and this is a great one as well. I applauded Dr. Yunus’ Nobel Prize this year – it was long overdue.

    In answer to Bryan – the difference between lending as opposed to simply giving is one word: responsibility.

    We see a crisis with a lot of our free giving from the West to impoverished nations – a phenomenon called “rice Christians”. It leaves them crippled and dependant on the West.

    But when we give them a micro-loan (say, a goat for farming, or farm machinery) they are responsible to pay that back which means they better get some work done and statistically, high percentages do pay back loans, and even have enough left over to take out bigger loans, improving their standard of living as well as an entire communities’ economy. There is no better transformative gospel community development.

    I truly believe micro-enterprise will become the Christian expression of charity in the future.

  12. cindy says:

    ditto what Paul said!

  13. Rick Meigs says:

    Wayne: Hey man, thanks for sharing your great insights!

  14. Rick Meigs says:

    Thanks for stopping in Cindy. Hope you find Kiva a good experience.

  15. Bryan Riley says:

    I don’t see any responses to my question except for yours, Rick, and I hear you, but I wonder if we are adopting World principles and forsaking Kingdom principles. What I mean is that God operates on the principles of giving and receiving and with the knowledge of infinite supply. Jesus tells us simply to give to everyone who asks of us. God gave and gives constantly and doesn’t lend. WE are told to pray “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done.” I’m wondering if we can’t simply give and do so in a way that encourages the same things that you raise. Empowerment, responsibility, etc.

  16. Rick Meigs says:

    Bryan: Wayne responded also. I don’t see this as a compromise of any biblical principle, on the contrary, it is the very expression of Christs compassion and concern for the poor. If the lending was taking advantage of the poor, then I’d have a real problem with the scheme. Since it is not, I’m comfortable.

  17. My early thoughts on Kiva are posted here: http://www.lenovoblogs.com/heartofbusiness/

    FYI there is an explicitly Christian microfinance organization, Opportunity International (www.oppportunity.org) if that makes people more comfortable.

  18. Rick Meigs says:

    Bill: That is a good post on Kiva. Thanks for sharing the link.

  19. Bryan Riley says:

    I’m not trying to be anti-enterprise at all, but I am legitimately trying to understand the interplay of biblical principles and our responsibilities as followers of Jesus. I struggle with this response by wayne:

    I truly believe micro-enterprise will become the Christian expression of charity in the future.

    As hearts are changed by Jesus, responsibility will come. Using market capitalism as a ploy to teach responsibility seems like a worldly way of doing it. I don’t know. I’m just thinking out loud, but perhaps I should understand more. What happens when people default? Are loans ever forgiven? Did God ever loan to us? Did Jesus ever loan to anyone? Did he ever suggest using market capitalism? I understand that just because it isn’t in the bible doesn’t mean it isn’t appropriate, but, as I said, I struggle with this.

    I can see people being dependent on the West and that being a problem, but there’s a difference between government dole and Christian charity. AT least I think there is and should be. I also think by giving AND teaching and training you can create a real relationship with the people receiving so that the other concerns might be abated.

  20. fyna ono says:

    Hi all! Just want to share a little of my life experience in the area of finances & then I am off to sign up on both sites provided. During times as a struggling single parent, I would have LOVED such an opportunity as this! Where I was met with turn downs due to my income being at poverty level (which is “funny” since I never qualified for food stamps or any government helps … more on that some other time), God intervened supernaturally. During this time, when I would hit a brick wall, and no other monetary break on the horizon, THAT is when the “giving” from others came in. When there was no other way for me to turn and I never asked or went looking either God used others in the christian community to reach out to ME … “Here take this! the Lord told us you need $210 … we do not know why but here” – this after I found out my company did not pay me overtime that was due to me and I would have to wait almost another month for this money I was counting on. (Its why I worked overrtime all the time, to make ends meet.) but nonetheless, my car payment was due. I just prayed God help me, I can not get into worry over this, I will not keep going if I stop and worry. This particular couple had a ministry of helps in the area of finances. THIS was their “calling” and God provided for them to be able to bless others in such a way from time to time, according to His will. Now many many years later, and remarried, situations are very different. Now I want to help others but Ive not “tons of cash” and we at times barely get by, but we DO get by! And we do NOT go starving. This news is GREAT! If the world had more of such organizations, we would not see so much poverty or poor or those really truly barely getting by. I am in tears too with joy over such endeavors!!

    Remember, Jesus gave examples about the servant who just buried his money for safekeeping and was later reprimanded by his master for not gaining INTEREST on it somehow. So in a way, I feel that would biblically relate to this topic. Also in light of Jesus’ examples and instructions, He told us that the things He did, so shall we … and even greater things. God gave us a brain tween our ears to use. Including coming up with new ideas ^-^. I understand how “giving” is a wonderful thing and truly a jump start for those who cant pay back anytime soon or even with a one time gift, gets a person back on their feet. However, I do not see how this is unbiblical given so many scriptures in old and new testaments regarding finances. Looking at the website, most people just want to start up a business for themselves and get going. I mean, today there is a lady who just needs $50 out of the initial $800 to get going on a sewing job!

    I will be speaking to my husband tonight about membership(s) – I am excited! I hope this idea grows and more people help another. Wow. Helping another outside a system that is heading to one-world government — I am for that! (p.s. sorry such a long post!!!!)

  21. […] You can read about my experience with Kiva at “Dr. Yunus, ‘Banker to the Poor’.” […]

  22. Kevin says:

    Yes, I support Kiva too. I just funded 3 businesses last night and is starting a group to create awareness about Kiva.

  23. […] I’ve posted on my experience with micro-lending through Kiva in the past including here. […]

  24. […] can read a couple of my posts on the subject including, Dr. Yunus, “Banker to the Poor” and Kiva […]

  25. Jason says:

    I am a missionary in Mexico. Last year I spent a good deal of money attempting to start businesses in the local area where I train nationals to preach the Gospel. All efforts failed. I am not regretful of my attempts but am a lot more aware of how difficult it is to ‘get started’. I have come to find out that in a small town setting or village the only way to survive is to plant crops which even then fail often. “Warren Buffett’s acknowledgment that society is responsible for much of his wealth. “If you stick me down in the middle of Bangladesh or Peru,” he said, “you’ll find out how much this talent is going to produce in the wrong kind of soil.” This is where the early church thrived in their common Gospel. I have since come to understand that we must be ‘content with food and raiment’ and as the church we must be use the resources of the body for the good of the whole and not just those who have access to a wealthy ‘social capital’. 1 Tim. 6:6-10, 2 Cor. 8:13-15

  26. Rick Meigs says:

    Jason: Thank you very much for dropping in and commenting.

  27. […] Kiva is a micro-finance organization that I’ve been part of for almost two years. If you are not familiar with micro-finance, you can read my post titled Dr. Yunus, “Banker to the Poor.” […]

  28. […] A great book to read on how micro lending started and the impact it can have is Dr. Muhammad Yunus’ “Banker to the Poor.” You can read my review here. […]