I arrived at the Grameen Complex at 10:30am on Thursday, after having visited my old dentist (who does quality work for a fraction of the price charged back home). Before I began my first meeting, I noticed the almost frenetic activity around me in each office I entered. My good friend Mir Akhtar Hossain, who heads Dr. Yunus’ person staff, was so busy he could barely catch up with me – much less indulge in our traditional lunch of chicken biryani down the road in Mirpur One. Even after thirty-three years in existence, complacency has hardly taken root in the Grameen family of companies.
My first meeting was with Nazneen Sultana, one of the first women to head a Grameen Company. Grameen Communications’ main job is to serve all the information technology needs of Grameen Bank – hardware, software, you name it. With the transition to version 5.0 of the Grameen Banker software Nazneen and her team developed, Grameen Bank’s management not only can track each client’s savings and loan activity, but also to manage payroll, H.R., accounting and much more. Quite an accomplishment!
Now, working with a firm in Japan, Grameen Communications is on the brink of moving to an electronic passbook and a virtually paperless Grameen Bank. As she is almost entirely focused on Grameen Bank’s needs, Nazneen is not interested in selling this software to other microfinance institutions (except possibly in Bangladesh). She voiced support for Grameen Foundation’s Mifos software platform, and asked to get a briefing on the current status.
Later in the day I had meetings with Professor H. I. Latifee, the head of Grameen Trust, Imamus Sultan, the head of Grameen Kalyan, and Lamiya Morshed, the director of the Yunus Centre. I was excited to learn that Grameen Trust has registered its own NGO in Zambia called “Grameen Zambia”, that Grameen Kalyan is moving ahead with using telemedicine to take its health program (now operational in 51 sites nationwide) to the next level, and that the Yunus Centre is close to launching a website dedicated to Dr. Yunus’ breakthrough idea — Social Business. I promised to send updated information about the two social businesses GF has launched – Grameen Capital India and Grameen-Jameel Pan-Arab Microfinance – well in advance of the public launch of the website, so she could profile them.
My evening was spent back at the hotel, visiting two friends who worked for CARE-Bangladesh in the 1990s, my colleague Sabrina Quaraishi who was in the country gathering information about the Grameen Scholarship program that GF supports, and Ahasan Habib, our technical advisor in Indonesia who has done so much to contribute to the success of microfinance in the areas of Banda Aceh worst affected by the 2004 Tsunami.
At the end of the day I was pooped – and trying to imagine how all the thousands of Grameen staff around the country felt after a day of exertions that were certainly more taxing than my own.