American University of Beirut

President's Speech - Muhammad Yunus

​Dr John Waterbury's speech
introducing Muhammad Yunus
June 24, 2006

We all aspire to make a difference, but how many of us can actually claim to have made a difference? Arguably no single individual has made a greater difference to so many people in so short a time than Muhammad Yunus. In 1976 Muhammad Yunus loaned $27 to some 40 stool makers in a village in Bangladesh. Seven years later, in 1983, he founded the Grameen Bank. In the mere 23 years since its founding, the Grameen Bank has lent $5.1 billion to 5.3 million people, most of them very poor, nearly all of them women, and most of them without any assets or collateral. The Grameen model has spread to over 100 countries, including the United States. Since 2003, in association with the Abdu Latif Jameel Group of Saudi Arabia, Grameen has been funding micro-credit schemes in a number of Arab countries.

Dr. Yunus discovered something in the 1970s to which he did not then give a name. Others did give it a name many years later, and they called it social capital, that is an intangible asset constituted by groups of people whose cooperation with one another is a bankable asset. Yunus unlocked this social capital amongst Bangladeshi women and unleashed a banking and a developmental revolution.

"If banks made large loans, he made small loans. If banks required paperwork, his loans were for the illiterate. Whatever banks did, he did the opposite,'' marvels Sam Daley-Harris, director of the Microcredit Summit Campaign. "He's a genius.''

Muhammad Yunus was born in the port city of Chittagong in Bangladesh. He was one of 14 siblings, five of whom died in infancy. After study at Dhaka University, he was awarded a Fulbright scholarship that allowed him to pursue doctoral studies in economics at Vanderbilt University. From there he returned to teach economics at Chittagong University. It was there that he took his first step to become the banker of the poor. Muhammad Yunus is a true revolutionary, armed mainly with an idea that has transformed the lives of millions. Where other revolutionaries have fallen into the famous 'dustbin of history', Muhammad Yunus has made history.

The brand name, Grameen, that he has established is as well known as Coca Cola, or Microsoft, or Nokia, but it is morally vastly more powerful. His clients are voiceless, nearly invisible, possessed only of their energy and will power, and he has said to them, "we trust you". They have reciprocated that trust millions of times over. 

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