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10 Questions for Muhammad Yunus

4 minute read
TIME

Do you think it is ethical to charge the poor interest and make a profit out of it?Hasan Iqbal, Sundsvall, Sweden
In Bangladesh, Grameen Bank charges the lowest rate among all microcredit programs, and yes, we make a profit. But Grameen Bank is owned by the borrowers, so when we make a profit it goes back to the borrowers as dividends.

Are microloans taking a hit due to the recession? Katie Malone, Point Marion, Pa.
We use very local money that is going to the local poor, so there is no way the hit taken by the financial centers of the world could be transmitted to us. We don’t see fluctuations in repayment rates or anything like that. We are O.K.

(Read “People Who Mattered: Muhammad Yunus.”)

How would you help the world out of recession? Azmath Shamrad, Newcastle, England
The system failed us. There’s no reason why we should resuscitate it. We have to make absolutely sure that we don’t go back to the same old normalcy. We should be creating a new normalcy. That opportunity has to be taken.

Microfinancing empowers Bangladeshi women. Is it driving cultural change? Lucas Torrin, Ottawa
The most dramatic thing that has happened in Bangladesh in the last 25 years is the total change in the status of women. Microcredit has played a very important role in that, particularly with poor women.

Has technology like cell-phone payment changed the microlending environment? Daniel Weldon, Portland, Ore.
Not yet, but it opens up the door for all kinds of cell-phone-based banking facilities, health-care facilities, marketing facilities. Now you can think of lots of possibilities. The cell-phone [network in Bangladesh] has been laid out, so now it’s a question of bringing the programs and content to those things.

Have you ever found an incident of corruption involving a Grameen Bank loan? Rudi Toruan, Samarinda, Indonesia
We have cases of corruption, but Grameen Bank now has 28,000 staff, 8 million borrowers and 2,600 branches. We lend out over $100 million each month and have a similar amount coming back each month, handling this physically in the villages. It’s very easy to put money in your pocket. But the amazing thing is that cases of corruption are so rare.

Do you think the same model of microlending so successful in Bangladesh can be applied elsewhere? Sadruddin Salman, Dhaka
Today, Grameen programs are everywhere. We even have a program in New York City, and it works beautifully. We brought the same system as we do in the villages of Bangladesh. We do it in Latin American countries — in Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica — in exactly the same way.

Why has it been difficult to implement microcredit schemes in Africa? Obi Iwuagwu, Lagos, Nigeria
We have a program in Zambia and we have absolutely no problem. If somebody says microcredit doesn’t work in Africa, I will not agree because I see it working.

Population growth contributes greatly to global poverty. What are your thoughts about the problem? Bob O’Connor, Oslo
Thirty years back, Bangladeshi mothers had an average of 6.2 children. Today the average is 3.1. The population growth rate has drastically come down and among many explanations is the empowerment of women. They became aware of their ability to handle their lives and make decisions about how many children they will have. Microcredit is not a population program, but it has helped women to see how they can live their own lives.

As individuals what’s the best thing we can do to consign poverty to museums? Louise Holly, London
Make people believe that we can send poverty to museums. When I talk about it, people laugh and say, “It’s impossible.” But when you don’t believe something, you can’t achieve it. You have to imagine, and make that imagination achievable.

Read “Q&A Muhammad Yunus.”

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