I would write to Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, the originator of the Grameen Bank in a tiny Banglladeshi village in 1976.
Grameen Bank began with a simple but revolutionary concept: Loan poor people money on terms that are suitable to them and teach them sound financial principles so they can achieve financial self-sufficiency.
Grameen Bank was created in 1976 when Professor Muhammad Yunus, then head of the Rural Economics Program at the University of Chittagong, loaned $27 from his own pocket to 42 people in the tiny Bangladeshi village of Jobra after seeing the vicious cycle of poverty exacerbated by predatory money lenders. These women only needed just enough credit to purchase the raw materials for their trades. The borrowers repaid his small loans promptly and inspired Yunus to establish the Grameen Bank Project, which then spread among villages and districts across Bangladesh with the help of his devoted students.
In October 1983, the Grameen Bank Project was transformed into an independent bank by government legislation. Professor Yunus founded the bank on a belief that credit is a basic human right and that borrowers are not simply borrowing from a bank, but are committed to a philosophy built upon four core principles: discipline, unity, courage, and hard work. Today, Grameen Bank is owned by the borrowers of the bank and remains devoted to providing the poorest of Bangladesh with microcredit loans that spark initiative and enterprise and empower the poor to lift themselves out of poverty.
As of June 2010, Grameen Bank has disbursed more than $9.4 billion to over 8.1 million borrowers, 97% of whom are women. The bank is represented in 2,564 branches and offers service in over 81,000 villages throughout rural Bangladesh. As a testament to the strength of the Grameen model, there are now 141 Grameen replication projects in 38 countries. The Grameen concept has created an effective and sustainable response to world poverty and the Bank’s success has advanced the concept of microcredit around the globe.
In 2006, Professor Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank were jointly awarded the “for their efforts to create economic and social development from below.” Additionally, in 2009 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by U.S. President Barack Obama, an honor reserved for those that have made "an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States or to world peace or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors." Professor Yunus is widely regarded as the pioneer of the microcredit industry and continues to challenge conventional thinking, identify new ways to empower unbanked entrepreneurs, and explore new possibilities in microcredit and social business around the world.
"New York City is the world capital of banking. In these skyscrapers that New York built, they control world finance. What I pointed out is that they do the banking with the world but they don’t do the banking with their neighbors. We are here to show that there is nothing wrong with doing banking with neighbors. So we hope we will create some confidence in them. If we change the banks' mind, the whole world will change."
- Muhammad Yunus, May 17, 2010,Grand Opening of Grameen America's Manhattan branch
Grameen America was founded upon the belief that the system that has succeeded with remarkable results in the villages of Bangladesh could work in urban America. Professor Yunus believes that for the world to really take notice of the power of microfinance, it has to work in the capital of international finance, New York City. Under the façade of New York City’s grandeur, there exists a huge population of underserved people who do not have access to banks and mainstream financial institutions. Grameen America opened its doors in January 2008 during the largest financial crisis of the modern era.
Despite being a new player in the domestic microfinance industry, Grameen America has experienced considerable growth during its first year. In the first three months, Grameen America disbursed more than $350,000 in micro-loans and had over 165 borrowers.
A Grameen America branch opened in Omaha, Nebraska in Summer 2009, making it the first microfinance instutition in Omaha and Grameen America’s first operational branch outside of New York City. As a result of the growing demand in NYC, Grameen America opened two additional branches in the boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn in January 2010. All branches have experienced rapid growth in the short period they have been operational.
Grameen America continues to expand the reach of microcredit across the United States, with two additional branches in development in California and Washington, DC.
Developmental efforts are underway in Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and North Carolina for additional expansion.