Alex Counts is President and CEO of Grameen Foundation, and the author of “Small Loans, Big Dreams: How Nobel Prize Winner Muhammad Yunus and Microfinance are Changing the World” (John Wiley & Sons, 2008). Below is Part Two of this journey to assess the state of microfinance with Grameen Foundation partners worldwide.
Once my Grameen colleagues and I had visited with the village phone operators, we travelled to a tea plantation that was also a modest retreat facility about two hours outside of Jakarta. The assembled GF staff huddled there together to review our progress in 2009 and to plan for even wider impact in 2010. I was highly impressed by the dedication and skills of some of our newest staff whom I had never even met before.
From there I travelled to Wolfsburg, Germany, where 150 Grameen leaders gathered with Grameen Bank founder Professor Muhammad Yunus to begin a discussion of our priorities between now and 2015. I was joined by my colleagues David Edelstein and Camilla Nestor, GF’s Vice Presidents of technology and microfinance respectively, as well as Board committee member David Stephens, one of our most dedicated volunteers anywhere.
Dr. Yunus highlighted his recent progress in getting major corporations to commit to establishing “social businesses” in Bangladesh as joint ventures with one or more Grameen companies. The most recent partners include BASF and Adidas. A social business is a new organizational form – something of a hybrid between a for-profit business and a non-profit organization – that Professor Yunus describes in detail in his book Creating a World Without Poverty. Grameen Foundation proudly highlighted our two social business joint ventures, Grameen Capital India (based in Bombay) and Grameen-Jameel Pan-Arab Microfinance, Ltd. (based in Dubai), both of which were represented by their CEOs, Royston Braganza and Julia Assaad respectively. (Grameen-Jameel was also represented by Zaher Al Munajjed, its Saudi chairman and a good friend.)
Yesterday, there was a massive event to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The theme for many will be “another wall to fall,” with the focus on how poverty needs to follow the Cold War into the dustbin of history. To symbolize this, Professor Yunus was be the final speaker at the event, which also featured many European heads of government. I was there with Royston, Dave and his wife Sherrie and took in the spectacle, despite the cold and rainy weather.
As I headed back to my hotel at the conclusion of the fireworks display, I was more convinced than ever that there is building momentum to accelerate positive poverty reduction trends and move human society towards the ideal that Professor Yunus has envisioned.