Todd Bernhardt is Director of Marketing and Communications for Grameen Foundation.
As readers of this blog may know, several weeks ago the Bank of Bangladesh (BoB) informed microfinance pioneer Professor Muhammad Yunus, winner of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, that he was dismissed from his post as Managing Director of Grameen Bank, which he founded in 1983. It claimed that he was serving illegally in his position because it had never formally approved his appointment when the 12-person Grameen Bank Board of Directors – which has three government-appointed directors on it, including the chairman – voted unanimously in 1999 to exempt Prof. Yunus from the mandatory retirement age of 60.
In fact, the BoB had asked the Grameen Bank Board in 1999 for an explanation of Prof. Yunus’s appointment. The GB Board promptly replied, and the subject was never brought up by the Bangladesh Bank again – including during its annual audits of Grameen Bank in the ensuing years. Why then, has it only now brought up the age of Prof. Yunus as an issue, after more than 11 years of silence about it?
The answer is becoming increasingly clear. The government’s latest moves are not just about Prof. Yunus and his age. Yes, he’s been a victim of partisan politics, in which the players involved seem to be trying to destroy his reputation because they see him as a political rival, but there are also signs that the ruling party is trying to gain control of Grameen Bank to use it as a tool to attain their political goals. Grameen Foundation and others strongly believe that an attack against the independence of Grameen Bank has far-reaching, negative implications for microfinance around the world.
The government actions have prompted considerable outrage inside and outside of Bangladesh. Diplomats, politicians, leaders of international-aid agencies, and business and thought leaders from around the world have made their opinions known – for example, there have been open letters by Sens. Kerry and Durbin, and from the Bangladesh Caucus in the House of Representatives, as well as very public efforts by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Prof. Yunus’s behalf – while many hundreds of thousands of supporters in his country have rallied in protest. Online efforts are also picking up steam – if you haven’t already, please visit and “like” the SupportYunus page on Facebook, and sign one (or more) of the petitions below:
- Stop the Government Smear Campaign Against Prof. Muhammad Yunus
- An Open Letter to Bangladeshi Prime Minister
- An Open Letter to Barack Obama
Where Do We Stand Now?
Prof. Yunus and the nine directors on the Grameen Bank Board who represent the Bank’s 8.3 million borrower-owners have petitioned the Bangladesh court system to stop the government’s attempts to dismiss Prof. Yunus from his position. During this appeals process, Prof. Yunus continues to serve in his role as Managing Director, because the Bank’s lawyers and many other legal experts believe that the Bangladesh Bank letter and ruling have no legal basis, because (among other things) the bylaws of Grameen Bank give its Board full discretion over the appointment of its managing director, and because of the precedent set by the many years of the BoB’s audits from 1999 to now that did not mention Prof. Yunus’s age.
The case is now in front of the Bangladesh Supreme Court, which was originally due to hear the petitions March 15 but instead adjourned for two weeks. During this time period, the Grameen Bank staff has continued to cooperate with the government, working toward a solution that ensures the independence of the Bank and that enables Prof. Yunus to retire and set up a succession plan in a considered, orderly fashion. This is what will be best for the poor people of Bangladesh, which has always been the prime concern of Prof. Yunus.
How You Can Help
Grameen Foundation remains concerned that the time before Supreme Court rules will be used by the government to step up its attacks against Prof. Yunus and Grameen Bank – in fact, we’ve already seen indications of this, with members of the ruling party making very personal attacks on the Parliament floor against Prof. Yunus. Because of this, it’s more important than ever that supporters of Prof. Yunus make their views as public as possible.
How can you do this? Here are a few ideas:
- As mentioned above, please “like” the SupportYunus page on Facebook and tell your friends and families to do the same. When positive stories and links are posted on this or other Facebook pages, please share them with your friends and family.
- Please sign the petitions mentioned above.
- On Twitter, please express your support by posting thoughts, articles, encouragement to join the Facebook page above, etc. Use the hashtags #SupportYunus, #Yunus, #Grameen, #Socent, #YY and, on Fridays, use the “follow Fridays” hashtag (#ff) to build support.
- If you have a blog, please post about the situation, or use your keyboard in other ways – write to your local newspaper or media outlet, to the Bangladeshi embassy near you, to the U.S. administration or State Department, etc. Several supporters in the U.S. have had good luck convincing their member of Congress to issue a statement of support, so please try that. Of course, if you read articles or blogs about Prof. Yunus and Grameen Bank, please show your support by leaving positive comments.
- Grameen Foundation is a founding member of an organization called Friends of Grameen, which now has a website containing good background information on what’s happened so far.
- Finally, we encourage you and your friends to stay informed by signing up for the Grameen Foundation e-newsletter (the link is available on the right side of most pages on our website), on this blog, the Facebook page above, or other sites, including the Grameen Bank and Yunus Centre websites.
One More Way You Can Help
Before wrapping up, perhaps I should clarify the relationship between Grameen Foundation and Grameen Bank, which are completely separate entities. Grameen Foundation has no operations in Bangladesh, and supports no microfinance institutions there. That said, one reason Grameen Foundation exists is to promote the values of responsible microfinance pioneered by Prof. Yunus and Grameen Bank – transparent, accountable, measurable efforts to empower the working poor, especially women, through small loans and other financial services – throughout the world. We will continue in that mission, which is possible only because of the generous support of people like you, who care about human dignity and damage that poverty causes to individuals and families every day. We hope we can count on you for your support.
As always, we will continue to keep you informed as events develop. And, as always, if you have any questions or concerns in the meantime, please let us know. If you have ideas about how to support Prof. Yunus, please leave them in the comments section!