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.
After a gap of about two years, on December 13, 2009 I returned to Bangladesh – the birthplace of the modern microfinance movement and the country where I spent six of the first nine years after I graduated college. I came here initially driven by naïve idealism – that someone (especially at my tender age!) could catalyze the spread Grameen Bank’s approach beyond the borders of Bangladesh, so it could to become a global (rather than simply national) anti-poverty strategy. As I was to learn, even by the time I arrived in December 1988, that process was under way – a process that was much more complex than I had imagined, and one that has been the focus of Grameen Foundation since it was established in 1997.
Yesterday I arrived late due to fog closing down the airport for several hours, and then horrific traffic. But that did not prevent me from getting to the Grameen complex on time – barely! – for my four o’clock appointment with Professor Yunus. Joining me was Royston Braganza, the CEO of Grameen Capital India, a “social business” joint venture Grameen Foundation set up to bring capital to bear on the challenge of scaling up microfinance in India. Royston has been tremendously successful in his first two years of operation (mobilizing more than $60 million and earning a small profit doing so), and it was with great pride that I watched him give an update to Professor Yunus.
As expected, Dr. Yunus listened patiently and then asked some probing questions about how to make GCI even more relevant to the poverty-focused microfinance sector in India. Towards the end of the meeting I updated him on our new “micro-savings” initiative and we talked about how he could join our next Grameen Foundation Board of Directors meeting, to be held in Nairobi just before the beginning of the Africa Regional Microcredit Summit. (Dr. Yunus was one of the founding Board members of Grameen Foundation and served on it for 12 years before becoming our first emeritus director last year.)
Later, we met with Ms. Nurjahan Begum, one of Dr. Yunus’ first students. She has overseen all training programs organized by Grameen – whether for its own 20,000+ workforce or the hundreds of international visitors who come each year – for more than two decades. She is doubtless the most accomplished trainer of human resources in the history of the microfinance movement. She also serves on the Grameen Foundation Board of Directors, taking the spot held by Dr. Yunus last year.
The night ended with Royston and I – a bit bleary-eyed after all the travel – having a delicious Bangladeshi dinner in the home of Grameen Bank’s former Deputy Managing Director, Khalid Shams. Among his many other accomplishments, he wrote a paper commissioned by Grameen Foundation on the network of 30+ companies set up by Professor Yunus to complement Grameen Bank. Check out that paper on our website – he did a terrific job. Now he is focused on writing a cookbook!
Today Royston and I go for some more meetings at the Grameen complex and then I head out to the branch where I did the bulk of the research for my book Small Loans, Big Dreams (which by the way makes a great stocking stuffer!). Stay tuned for my blogging to come later this week.