Posts Tagged ‘social business’

The Power of Microbusiness

April 30, 2012

Shannon Maynard is the Director of Grameen Foundation’s skilled volunteer program, Bankers without Borders®. Maynard has more than 15 years of experience in nonprofit management and volunteer mobilization. Before joining Grameen Foundation, she served as Executive Director of the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation, and managed strategic initiatives for federal agency the Corporation for National and Community Service.

One of the books that has been on my reading list for a while but I haven’t gotten to yet is The Coming Jobs War, by Gallup CEO Jim Clifton.  As a busy working mom, I’ve read reviews and excerpts, and have promised myself to read the entire book by the end of the summer.  I do know that the premise of the book, which is based on the findings of Gallup’s World Poll, is that what people in the world want most is a good job.

Here in the United States that typically translates to a formal job and steady paycheck. In the developing world that includes informal jobs, but the message is the same – people want steady, reliable pay in return for a hard day’s work.  Clifton argues that over the course of the next 30 years, economic force will trump political and military force in terms of determining which countries have power and influence and which do not.  The top U.S. cabinet position will be the Secretary of Job Creation – not the Secretary of State or Defense.

Shannon Maynard, Director, Grameen Foundation's Bankers without Borders volunteer initiative.

Shannon Maynard, Director, Grameen Foundation's Bankers without Borders volunteer initiative.

At Grameen Foundation, we focus our time on creating ways to give the poorest people, in some of the world’s poorest countries, access to information and financial services that will help them improve their livelihoods, most often through the creation of informal jobs.  In the United States, there is a similar effort afoot to provide greater access to financing and technical assistance to help microbusinesses – those businesses with between one and five employees – grow and create more jobs.  The Association for Enterprise Opportunity (AEO), the voice of microenterprise development in the United States, argues that if just one-third of these microbusinesses were able to hire one new employee, the United States would be at full employment. (more…)

CEOs Release “Road Map for the Microfinance Industry”

January 18, 2012

The founding members of the Microfinance CEO Working Group — which includes the CEOs of pioneering microfinance organizations ACCION, FINCA, Freedom from Hunger, Grameen Foundation USA, Opportunity International, Pro Mujer, VisionFund International and Women’s World Banking — have just released the “Road Map for the Microfinance Industry: Focusing on Responsible and Client-Centered Microfinance.”

This document outlines the Working Group members’ vision for the positive evolution of the microfinance field and underscores their commitment to raising industry standards, starting with their own.  Central to this vision is the Working Group’s support for three ambitious initiatives that are helping to lay the groundwork for a more responsible, client-focused and transformative industry: the Smart Campaign, MicroFinance Transparency and the Social Performance Task Force’s universal standards for social performance management.  Alex Counts first talked about the group and its goals in this blog post.

The CEOs of microfinance-focused organizations have agreed on a common approach to pursue going forward, to ensure that they are serving the poor in the best way.

The Microfinance CEO Working Group members call for their valued peers in the microfinance industry to take action by endorsing these three initiatives, transforming their principles into action, and striving for better ways to provide financial services for the poor.

The full text of the letter can be read here.

The Working Group welcomes your comments and feedback. For more information, please contact Meghan Greene, manager of the Microfinance CEO Working Group, at mgreene@accion.org.

Grameen-Jameel Is Strengthening Microfinance in the Middle East

December 20, 2011

Alex Counts is president, CEO and founder of Grameen Foundation, and author of several books, including Small Loans, Big Dreams: How Nobel Prize Winner Muhammad Yunus and Microfinance are Changing the World.

Last week I had the pleasure of visiting the historic city of Istanbul for the first time, on the occasion of the first Grameen-Jameel (GJ) partners meeting, followed by a two-day meeting of GJ’s Board of Directors, on which I serve.  GJ is a joint venture launched five years ago between Grameen Foundation and the Jeddah-based Abdul Latif Jameel Group to advance microfinance and poverty reduction in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and now Turkey as well.  (Peter Bladin and Jim Greenberg are the other two Grameen Foundation representatives on the GJ Board, while Fady Jameel is one of the two Jameel Group appointees, in addition to chairman Zaher Al Munajjed.)

The partners meeting was elevated by the presence of not just representatives of 13 of the 15 GJ’s partner microfinance institutions (MFIs), but by Grameen Bank founder and Nobel Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus.  (The only MFIs that did not join were one from Egypt and one from Syria, the latter due to the inability to get a visa, because Turkey has closed its embassy there.)

Prof. Muhammad Yunus speaks to the crowd at the Grameen-Jameel partner meeting, held in Istanbul.

Prof. Muhammad Yunus speaks to the crowd at the Grameen-Jameel partner meeting, held in Istanbul.

The first day of the meeting consisted of an excellent overview by its General Manager, Julia Assaad, of GJ’s accomplishments.  She announced that GJ had surpassed its goal of reaching 1 million poor families with microfinance through its partner MFIs to date, and had in fact crossed the 1.5-million mark in September.  Representatives of five of the partners – the Turkey Grameen Microcredit Program (TGMP)in Turkey, Enda Inter-Arabe in Tunisia, DBACD in Egypt, Tamweelcom in Jordan and FONDEP in Morocco – spoke about their journey of starting and growing their organizations, and how GJ was able to help them in critical ways. (more…)

Prof. Yunus Visits Haiti – an Update from Alex Counts

October 16, 2011

Alex Counts is president, CEO and founder of Grameen Foundation, and author of several books, including Small Loans, Big Dreams: How Nobel Prize Winner Muhammad Yunus and Microfinance are Changing the World.

I am about to leave Haiti after four exciting days, and head to Dubai.  I am here in connection with Professor Muhammad Yunus’s first trip to Haiti.  Highlights abound – it is hard to know where to start.

I arrived a day early to do some interviews related to my book on Fonkoze, the country’s leading microfinance institution (MFI). Prof. Yunus’s first stop was a meeting with Haitian President Michel Martelly, who was inaugurated earlier this year.  By coincidence, the long process of forming a government (i.e., naming all the ministers who serve under him) had just been completed, so Prof. Yunus was able to meet all the new cabinet members just before they were to be introduced to the country.  President Martelly expressed sincere interest in helping create a positive environment for social business – Prof. Yunus’s main passion now – as well as microfinance.

From there, Prof. Yunus went to the first part of a two-day conference on social business.  His opening speech – delivered, as always, without notes – covered the theory of social business, as well as practical examples of how it has worked in Bangladesh, especially his joint ventures with the Danone Group and Veolia.  (He mentioned a study of the nutritional impact of Grameen-Danone, which is coming out in a month and shows that the impact of the program – in which poor women sell nutritious, inexpensive yogurt to other poor mothers and their children – was much greater than even he expected!)

Prof. Muhammad Yunus talks to a group of borrowers involved in Fonkoze's “Ti Kredi” program.

Prof. Muhammad Yunus talks to a group of borrowers involved in Fonkoze's “Ti Kredi” program.

He also talked about how he was afraid that the aid coming to Haiti after the earthquake would be wasted unless it was used to build up independence, rather than greater dependence on charity.  Finally, he told some stories about Grameen Bank and its history, and marveled at how microfinance has grown globally to almost every country, mentioning Fonkoze and its status as the leading MFI there (eliciting spontaneous applause) and celebrating Grameen Foundation’s important role in supporting Fonkoze.

The conference continued through midday Friday.  Anne Hastings, the director of Fonkoze Financial Services (Fonkoze’s for-profit arm), and I were on a panel with Prof. Yunus, where – alongside two Haitian economists – we responded to questions posed by the moderator and the audience.  In response to a question about my upcoming book on Fonkoze, I said that it was critical features for microfinance and social business to rigorously track social-impact outcomes.  In that context, I explained how the Progress out of Poverty Index® was based on Grameen Bank’s 10 Indicators of Poverty and had been incorporated into Fonkoze’s own social-impact monitoring tool.  In response to another question, I said that there were potentially powerful alliances between MFIs and their most successful clients on the one hand, and the social business movement in Haiti on the other.  Anne added some excellent points that built on those made by Prof. Yunus.

On Saturday, we took a field trip together.  The highlight was the first stop – visiting a Fonkoze “Ti Kredi” center of about 50 women who 10 days earlier had just gotten their first loan of $25.  (They are to make their first payments next Wednesday.)  After long-time Fonkoze employee Gautier Dieudonne introduced him, Prof. Yunus spoke to the group about Grameen Bank, Bangladesh, microfinance, mangos and much else, and asked the women a lot of questions. There was much laughter during some of the lighthearted exchanges, while serious topics were also explored, related to how microfinance can go off course at the village level and nationally – and what can be done about it.  He asked how much local moneylenders charge – the answer was 20% per month – and the women praised Fonkoze for offering a much lower rate.

After the center meeting we had a nice afternoon with representatives from Zanmi Lasante/Partners in Health, the organizations founded by Paul Farmer.

I think the most poignant moment came when Prof. Yunus asked whether the women thought they were going to be able to improve their lives with such small loans.  An older woman named Clenie Brisfor stood up and said, “It is not easy, but what else are we going to do?  We can make progress!  Even if we have only 1 gourd [about 5 cents], we can buy a packet of clean water and re-sell it for a small profit, and start the process of changing our lives.  So 1,000 gourdes [$25] is a lot!”

Fonkoze borrower Clenie Brisfor tells Prof. Yunus that, with access to small loans through Fonkoze, "We can make progress!"

Fonkoze borrower Clenie Brisfor tells Prof. Yunus that, with access to small loans through Fonkoze, "We can make progress!"

I wonder how many Americans understand what $25 – or even 5 cents – can do to change someone’s life, as well as their sense of what is possible? As we’ve seen again and again, access to financial services can provide the poor with an opportunity to empower themselves, live up to their potential and realize the human dignity that we all deserve.

An Update on Professor Yunus

August 24, 2011

Professor Muhammad Yunus recently paid a visit to Grameen Foundation headquarters, meeting with leaders and speaking to staff (as well as to staff from RESULTS) during a visit to Washington, DC. Todd Bernhardt, Grameen Foundation’s Director of Marketing and Communications, was part of an audience who listened to Professor Muhammad Yunus speak, and provides this update on his recent activities.

Prof. Yunus recently visited our DC office.

It’s hard to believe that it was only a bit more than three months ago that microfinance pioneer and Nobel Peace Prize winner Professor Muhammad Yunus stepped down from his post as Managing Director of Grameen Bank, the poverty-fighting organization that he founded in the late ‘70s. During the government’s campaign to remove him from office (read this Fact Sheet to find out more), many Grameen Foundation supporters voiced their concern about Prof. Yunus and the independence of Grameen Bank, and have wondered about his activities since then, asking us to provide an update.  A recent visit by Prof. Yunus to Washington, DC, provided us with an opportunity to catch up with him personally, while demonstrating to everyone who spoke with him that his commitment to fighting poverty through innovative solutions remains as firm as ever.


Grameen Foundation President and CEO Alex Counts welcomes Prof. Yunus (right) while Microcredit Summit Campaign Director and RESULTS founder Sam Daley-Harris listens.

Prof. Yunus stayed in Washington from Aug. 10-13, giving a keynote speech at the annual forum of InterAction (an alliance of U.S.-based international NGOs focusing on the world’s poor and vulnerable populations), making several media appearances (he spoke with NPR’s Kojo Nnamdi  and Andrea Stone at The Huffington Post) and meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as well as officials from the U.S. Agency for International Development.

He also met with a number of leaders in the international-development community – including Grameen Foundation President and CEO Alex Counts and Sam Daley-Harris, Director of the Microcredit Summit Campaign and founder of RESULTS, a anti-poverty lobbying organization – and spent a morning speaking to the staff of those organizations at Grameen Foundation’s DC headquarters.

Focusing on the Social Business
In all of his visits, Prof. Yunus emphasized the need to develop and popularize the social business, which he wrote about in his book Creating a World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism.  Simply put, social businesses are for-profit entities created primarily to serve a social goal. Such businesses strive to generate modest profits that are used to fund and expand operations, rather than to pay dividends to investors.

Since his departure from Grameen Bank, Prof. Yunus has continued to advocate for its independence from government control and to defend the interests of the Bank’s 8.3 million borrower-owners (97% of whom are poor women). Bank employees have continued to keep operations running smoothly while the Bangladesh government has seemingly turned its attention away from the Bank to unrest in the country caused by, among other things, moves to amend the constitution to remove the non-party caretaker system that oversees the country during general elections.

But many people fear that the government’s apparent lack of interest in taking control of the Bank may prove to be temporary, and that it may move again soon to amend the Bank’s bylaws and change the composition of its Board. With this in mind, Prof. Yunus urged the group assembled at the Grameen Foundation offices to remain vigilant and work with others around the world to ensure that the rights of the 8.3 million owners of the Bank are protected. “We have to stand behind them,” he said. (You can help by signing this petition asking the Bangladeshi government to keep Grameen Bank independent.)

He then reviewed the progress made by Bangladesh over the past 30 years, explaining that it was because of the power of ordinary people working together in civil society that the quality of life had improved for so many. Social business, he said, provides another way for people to work together to achieve social aims, leveraging the power of capitalism and the free market. “Business can be used to solve problems, not just to make money,” he explained. “Money is not the way to happiness. We make ourselves happy by making other people happy.”


Prof. Yunus talks to staff at Grameen Foundation’s DC headquarters about the Asian Social Business Forum recently held in Japan, while Sam Daley-Harris and Alex Counts look on.

Prof. Yunus has been traveling the world explaining the social-business concept, meeting with enthusiastic responses in the developed world (he told the group about a recent and very successful visit to Japan, which is looking at social business as an approach in rebuilding after the tsunami of last March) and in the developing world (he has been invited to visit Haiti in October to show people there how the concept could help them improve civil society).  In addition to describing a successful series of events that were held around the world on Social Business Day, June 28, he said is looking forward even more to a series of meetings in November, including the Social Business Summit in Vienna on Nov. 10-12, and the Global Microcredit Summit in Spain on Nov. 14-17.

It’s Up to Us
In taking questions from the staff at Grameen Foundation offices, Prof. Yunus emphasized the power of the individual, as well as our responsibility to empower them – all for the overall good of society. “Peace can be threatened by poverty,” he explained. Microfinance and social businesses create opportunities that “keep people from being dependent … and helps them channel their energies into positive avenues, away from violence.” Creating such opportunity, he said, also helps to address inequalities on a larger scale – between groups of people and even nations – reducing tensions and resentment.

It’s up to all of us, he concluded, to change how we view, and interact with, the world. In capitalist societies, people grow up “wearing ‘profit-maximizing glasses,’ but if you take off those glasses and put on the social-business glasses, everything looks differently! New possibilities open to you.” He gave the example of Danone, which is involved in a social business in Bangladesh that makes inexpensive, nutritious yogurt available for poor women to sell to other poor people. When Danone was starting this enterprise, and asked its shareholders if they would like to invest part of their dividends in a new business that would help people but not give them additional financial return on their investment, 98% signed up, resulting in millions of euros in investment. “Give people a choice to help others,” Prof. Yunus concluded with a smile, “and they will come through.”

You Can Support Mobile Microfranchising in Indonesia with Your Vote

July 26, 2011

Susana Escudero is an intern for Grameen Foundation, based in our Washington, DC, office.

Grameen Foundation has been selected as a semi-finalist for the Ashoka Changemakers Powering Economic Opportunity: Create a World that Works competition, for our initiative to provide mobile phone-based services and business opportunities for the poorest in Indonesia. We were selected as one of 15 semi-finalists from 873 innovations in 83 countries around the world!

The 10 projects that receive the most votes from July 20 through August 10 will proceed to the final judging round, where five organizations will be chosen to each receive a $50,000 grant to further their work. Your vote today will help us become one of those finalists, enabling us to help improve the life of Halimah and more women like her in Indonesia.

Halimah, who lives on the island of West Java, owns and operates a small shop with her husband. Though he tries to find day labor whenever possible to help supplement their income, his work is not steady, so their income is not consistent. Like most of us, Halimah’s dream is to provide a better life for her children, aged 9, 13 and 15. Despite all her hard work, for many years her family’s combined income averaged only $1.80/day.

But that was before Grameen Foundation offered her new income-generating opportunities. For the last four years, we have worked with our collaborators – Qualcomm Wireless Reach, PT Ruma, and Bakrie Telecom – to help people like Halimah to lift themselves out of poverty.  Through our Village Phone initiative and AppLab program, we offer poor entrepreneurs profitable mobile phone-related business opportunities that can help improve their lives.

When Halimah was approached by a Ruma field officer about starting a new line of business selling airtime, she was excited about the possibilities and agreed to do it, because of the existing demand and the potential of a steady cash flow for her shop. Today, Halimah is able to provide an additional income of $1.10/day for her family through her mobile phone business.

Ibu Halimah has been able to increase the income from her small store -- and provide a better life for her children -- by selling airtime for mobile phones to others in her village.

AppLab Indonesia provides the working poor with an innovative and sustainable way of meeting growing demand for affordable access to information through a microfranchising model that is easy for them to use and benefit from. To find out more about the initiative, watch a video about the project on the Grameen Foundation website.

You can be part of the team working to help poor women like Halimah – with the click of a mouse! Please visit the Changemakers competition website to learn more about our innovative project and vote for our Mobile Microfranchising in Indonesia initiative, and ask your friends and family to do the same.

You can vote once during the three-week period for each email address you use (so, for example, if you have a personal email address and a work email address, you can vote once from each account). The Changemakers site will ask you to either create a username and password linked to your email address, or log in through your Facebook account. With enough votes – and a $50,000 grant – we can continue expanding our efforts to create opportunities for women like Halimah.

Examining the Potential of Microfinance through a Haitian MFI

July 8, 2011

Alex Counts is president, CEO and founder of Grameen Foundation, and author of several books, including Small Loans, Big Dreams: How Nobel Prize Winner Muhammad Yunus and Microfinance are Changing the World.

Grameen Foundation has been working for 14 years to advance a certain approach to microfinance – one that is rooted in the experiences, achievements and philosophy of Grameen Bank.  Though we do not promote any particular methodology (i.e., a certain means of providing financial or human development services to the poor), we do focus on and try to advance a set of principles and standards.  Methodologies are very context-specific, while principles endure and standards are universal.  (We approach our technology-for-development work similarly, but that is beyond the scope of this short post.)

Some of the principles are not particularly controversial or microfinance-specific – things like a commitment to transparency, innovation, being client-centered, investing in the human capital of employees, promoting gender equality and so on.  Others are specific to microfinance, such as bundling financial and human development services wherever possible, measuring and managing social performance on par with financial performance, mobilizing loan capital locally (through savings or local currency borrowings), and local (or indigenous) ownership and governance.  Among the latter, there are some thoughtful people in our movement (or industry, as some prefer to call it) who would disagree with the wisdom of these principles. I say that to emphasize that these are not meaningless slogans that everyone agrees on.

Talking about principles and standards, and about our work to champion innovation that spreads them throughout the microfinance sector, can seem abstract at times, even though we are clearer than ever that this is how Grameen Foundation can have the greatest impact.  Sometimes we find it helpful to focus on individual organizations that embody these principles and meet these standards, however imperfectly, to deepen our own understanding of how microfinance can evolve, and also further the understanding of people who support our organization in various ways.  With microfinance coming under increasing scrutiny by regulators, the media and politicians, holding up pace-setting institutions is an important part of educating stakeholders about what microfinance can be, and arguably should be.

During his recent trip to Haiti, Alex met extensively with the borrowers and staff of Fonkoze, including founder Father Joseph Philippe (left).

During his recent trip to Haiti, Alex met extensively with the borrowers and staff of Fonkoze, including founder Father Joseph Philippe (left).

With my second sabbatical approaching (at Grameen Foundation we get one every seven years), I decided to pick one such organization and write a book about it for a general audience.  It was not that hard to decide which one – I chose Fonkoze, Haiti’s largest MFI.  It is a dynamic, innovative, risk-taking organization led by fascinating people – mostly Haitians and Haitian-Americans, but also a few Americans and Europeans – in a country that has been in the news in recently (for all the wrong reasons, unfortunately).  It has also been a beneficiary of Grameen Foundation’s products and services for more than a decade.

I began my sabbatical on June 16 and a few days later was down in Haiti – my fifth and longest trip yet to that sad and surprising country.  Shortly before going, I began a blog that would chronicle the process of researching and writing the book, and invited people around the world to participate in the creative process.  I have been posting short written reflections, photos and videos (most under two minutes) ever since.

My goals for this project are aggressive. I want it to be a New York Times best-seller!  (Why the heck not?)  I also want it to generate significant new partners and funders for Grameen Foundation, Fonkoze and organizations that operate along similar lines.  (All the royalties from the book will go to Grameen Foundation.)  And I want it to change the narrative in the mainstream media from simplistic answers to the “what’s wrong with microfinance” question to more interesting analyses of how it is evolving in some places to be an even more potent poverty-fighting strategy than earlier models.  I plan to have the book in stores by the third anniversary of the Haiti earthquake (January 12, 2013).

Ambitious?  Yes!  But with new “friends” of this project coming forward every day – consider yourself invited! – it just might be achievable.

Summary of Recent Issues Surrounding Grameen Bank and Prof. Yunus

June 20, 2011

A network of people who support Grameen Bank and its founder, microfinance pioneer Professor Muhammad Yunus, has put together a short, factual summary of the recent confrontation between Professor Yunus/Grameen Bank and the Bangladesh government.  It’s meant to be a quick read that will help people separate fact from fiction, with plenty of links to key documents for those who want to dig deeper.  There has been much misinformation circulated in the media and around the web about these issues, so we hope this will prove to be a reference that people can easily share, to enable supporters of microfinance to spread the truth.  This fact sheet will be updated as conditions change; to read, share or download the most recent version of this fact sheet in PDF format, visit the Friends of Grameen website.

The international media recently has been full of stories and speculation about Professor Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank, joint recipients of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for their work fighting poverty. Because of false accusations against Professor Yunus and the Bank – including emails and other materials widely distributed by Sajeeb Wajed, the son of Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed, as well as by other government officials – many of the stories were inaccurate and confused. Though Grameen Bank has responded to these allegations through the media and other means, unfortunately this disinformation campaign has continued, so we feel that it is necessary to create this fact sheet, which contains a quick review of the events as they’ve happened, as well as resources for those who want to know the truth.

In late November 2010, a Norwegian television network aired a documentary called “Caught in Micro Debt” that made a number of false accusations about Professor Yunus and Grameen Bank. For example, it said that funds received from a Norwegian aid agency, NORAD, were improperly transferred between Grameen Bank and Grameen Kalyan, its non-profit sister organization. This matter was clarified and settled between NORAD and Grameen Bank in 1998. After the documentary aired, Norway promptly investigated the transaction again, and again said there was no improper use of funds.

The documentary also claimed that Grameen Bank charged from 30% to 200% interest, but a study of Grameen Bank’s interest rates by leading authority MicroFinance Transparency noted that “Grameen has an extremely simple and transparent pricing system,” while a report by the Review Committee appointed by the government (see below) to examine the Bank noted that it has the lowest interest rates of any microfinance institution in Bangladesh, with 20% being its top rate.

Even though Prof. Yunus has resigned his post as Managing Director of the bank he founded, the Bangladeshi government has continued to pursue efforts to take over Grameen Bank, and even to take control of unrelated social businesses that share the Grameen name.

Even though Prof. Yunus has resigned his post as Managing Director of the bank he founded, the Bangladeshi government has continued to pursue efforts to take over Grameen Bank, and even to take control of unrelated social businesses that share the Grameen name.

Even so, the Bangladesh government – led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed, who reportedly has viewed Professor Yunus as a political rival since he looked into setting up a political party in 2007 – led a campaign to force Professor Yunus from his post as managing director of Grameen Bank, with the 77-year-old finance minister, Abul Maal Abdul Muhith, claiming that the 70-year-old Yunus was “too old” for his post. At a press conference following release of the documentary, the prime minister stepped up the rhetoric, accusing Professor Yunus of “sucking blood from the poor in the name of poverty alleviation.” Other officials of her government, including the Foreign Minister, the Agriculture Minister, top Awami League officials and special advisors, made repeated false allegations and personal attacks against Professor Yunus.

Muhith repeatedly asked for Yunus’s resignation, but Professor Yunus declined, reminding Muhith that – according to the Grameen Bank Ordinance of 1983 – only the Grameen Bank Board of Directors had the right to hire or fire the managing director, since the Bank is an independent entity. (The Bank’s board comprises 13 people, three of whom – including the chairman – are appointed by the government, with nine being elected by the Bank’s 8.3 million borrower-owners, and the managing director as the remaining member.)  The government then stepped up the pressure by appointing a disgruntled ex-employee and vocal critic of Professor Yunus, Muzammel Huq, as chairman of the Grameen Bank Board in January.

In early March, the Bangladesh Bank (backed by the Finance Ministry) informed Grameen Bank that Professor Yunus had been acting as managing director without its consent, which it claimed was a violation of its rules.  The letter also cited his age as a factor, and called on the Board to take appropriate action. Grameen Bank immediately responded to these allegations, showing that the Bangladesh Bank had given express approval of his appointment, and that his appointment had been extended formally and indefinitely. Professor Yunus and the nine independent Directors then began a legal process to declare the letters invalid.  After the country’s High Court summarily dismissed the petition, the petitioners turned to the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, which in early May also dismissed the petition, despite well-reasoned and impassioned arguments from Grameen Bank’s attorneys.

Grameen Bank has fully cooperated with a Review Committee set up by the Bangladesh government to examine the Bank’s operations. The Review Committee’s report, submitted to the Finance Ministry in late April, confirmed that there was no wrongdoing involved in the transfer of Norwegian aid funds, and acknowledged that Grameen Bank’s interest rates are the lowest in the country. The Committee found no evidence of mismanagement or personal corruption among Grameen Bank employees, complimented Bank staff on their cooperation, and acknowledged the tremendous contributions made by the Bank on the country’s socio-economic condition. However, the Committee’s incorrect assumptions that Grameen Bank is a “government bank” and other incorrect findings prompted a detailed refutation by Grameen Bank.

On May 12, Professor Yunus announced he resigned from his post as managing director of the Bank, handing the position to Deputy Managing Director, Nurjahan Begum, while the Board conducts a search for a permanent replacement.  In a letter to his colleagues at the Bank, as well as a letter to the Bank’s borrower-owners, he emphasized the importance of maintaining the Bank’s independence, which the government is threatening to take away.

Professor Yunus has worked tirelessly to create other independent social businesses committed to promoting social good.  It now seems as if the government is now looking to take control of these enterprises, too.

Throughout this period, a network of supporters inside and outside of Bangladesh – millions of everyday people, as well as well-known politicians, diplomats and business leaders – have contributed their time and effort to protect the reputation of Professor Yunus and the independence of Grameen Bank. In addition, 3.7 million of Grameen Bank’s borrower-owners signed a petition asking that Professor Yunus stay involved with the Bank in some capacity.

You can help spread the truth and defend the independence of Grameen Bank by sharing this document with your friends, by voicing your opinion on social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc.), and by keeping informed about the latest Grameen Bank and Yunus Centre news.

It’s vitally important that the following points are reinforced in advocacy efforts:

  • Grameen Bank must remain independent and free of government interference.
  • Professor Yunus should be made chairman of Grameen Bank’s Board of Directors, to ensure smooth transition of the Bank’s management.
  • The government must respect the authority of the Bank’s Board of Directors, and not change its composition or reduce the number of elected directors, which would weaken the voice of its borrower-owners.
  • Other Grameen organizations, established as independent social businesses, should remain independent and free of government interference.

Thank you.

Celebrating 10 Innovative Years Fighting Poverty with Technology

June 1, 2011

Georgina Allen is a marketing and communications intern, based in our Seattle office.

David Edelstein, Director of Grameen Foundation Technology Center, speaks about the poverty-fighting potential of the mobile phone.

It’s been 10 years since Grameen Foundation established its Technology Center in Seattle to empower poor people through information and communication technology. On Tuesday, May 17, we hosted an open house to celebrate this milestone and thank the donors and supporters who help make our work possible. Almost 200 people attended!

Upon arrival, guests were invited to make their way around the space where different “stations” were set up to highlight each of the Tech Center’s projects and demo some of the accompanying mobile phone technology.  Photographs of microfinance clients, farmers and pregnant women who have benefited from our work lined the walls, with a story behind each photo that demonstrates the potential of communications technology in economic development.  Our staff was excited to welcome our supporters to explain more about our work and connect with people in the Seattle community.

Just when the office felt like it was at capacity (or over), Alex Counts, President and CEO of Grameen Foundation, took the stage to share some reflections on our work.  After welcoming and thanking supporters, Alex recollected the birth of the Tech Center 10 years ago.  At that time, Craig and Susan McCaw, long-time philanthropists with a background in telecommunications technology, generously partnered with Grameen Foundation to finance a replication of the village-phone program that Grameen Bank had pioneered in Bangladesh.  This seed then grew into the idea to establish an entire technology center devoted to the field of information communications technology for development.

Susan McCaw recalls the early days of Grameen Foundation Technology Center, while (from left) Alex Counts, Peter Bladin, David Edelstein and Craig McCaw look on.

Susan McCaw recalls the early days of Grameen Foundation Technology Center, while (from left) Alex Counts, Peter Bladin, David Edelstein and Craig McCaw look on.

Following Alex,  Susan McCaw briefly discussed her and Craig’s long-time belief in mobile technology as a solution to economic development.  She commented on the importance of dignified solutions like the Village Phone program, where individuals get the opportunity to earn income for themselves while offering a valuable service to individuals in their community.  She also drew on her experience as an ambassador, implying that “micro solutions,” like those supported by Grameen Foundation, actually have the potential to help solve “macro problems” like global security.

To conclude, Peter Bladin and David Edelstein, founding and current directors of the Tech Center, went through a list of the Center’s major accomplishments over the years, including proving the value of technology to microfinance institutions, delivering relevant and actionable agricultural and health information through the mobile phone, and creating microbusinessses.  Both acknowledged that Grameen Foundation’s mobile phone-related work would not be possible without the ability to partner with private mobile phone companies – whose work is the reason why 4 billion phones are in the hands of individuals in the developing world.  Both Peter and David also attributed our success to enduring core values – empowerment, sustainability, scalability and collaboration.

After nearly three and a half hours, the last of the guests trickled out, full of cheese, donated wine (courtesy of Vehrs Domestic and Imported Beverages) and interesting Grameen Foundation tidbits.  If the success of this event is an indication of how the rest of our anniversary-event series will go, be sure not to miss the next one!

Be sure to check out our photo album as well as a video of the program.

Statement from Alex Counts on the resignation of Prof. Muhammad Yunus

May 13, 2011

Statement from Alex Counts, President and CEO of Grameen Foundation, on the resignation of microfinance pioneer Professor Muhammad Yunus, winner of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize and founder of Grameen Bank.

The resignation of Professor Muhammad Yunus yesterday marks an important transition in the work and mission of Grameen Bank.  For 35 years, his deep commitment to the world’s poorest people and unshakeable belief in their power to help themselves escape poverty have shaped the work of the Bank and its more than 26,000 employees in Bangladesh.  His ideals, which have inspired countless others and helped to build a global movement to empower the poor through access to financial services, do not end with his term as Grameen Bank’s managing director.

Throughout his career, Professor Yunus has never been afraid to speak his mind nor challenge the status quo, earning both praise and criticism in many quarters.  He dispelled prevailing notions about the abilities of poor people by creating Grameen Bank, which today serves more than 8.3 million people across Bangladesh.  His recognition of poverty’s complexity also led to the creation of the Grameen family of companies, which focus on solving problems related to a range of issues, including hunger, educational disparities and access to affordable energy. (For more information about the Grameen family of companies, see M. Khalid Shams’ paper, Accelerating Poverty Reduction in Bangladesh Through the Grameen Family of Companies: Building Social Enterprises as Business Ventures].  That voice of reason will continue to echo, as will his unrelenting quest to promote social businesses and other changes that benefit poor people.

Prof. Yunus has always focused on serving the poor in Bangladesh, and around the world.

Prof. Yunus has always focused on serving the poor in Bangladesh, and around the world.

His bold vision of a world free from poverty has unleashed a powerful force that will continue, both in Bangladesh and abroad.  I’m proud to say that he planted the early seeds of Grameen Foundation.   He also played a pivotal role in launching the Microcredit Summit Campaign in 1997, which achieved its nine-year goal of reaching more than 100 million poor families with microcredit – and has now launched a second goal of reaching 175 million by 2015.  Equally important, he has inspired individuals in such diverse places as Haiti, India and Nigeria to launch organizations modeled after Grameen Bank to provide hope and opportunity to poor people in those countries.

We salute Professor Yunus for urging us all to do more and press further to make poverty a thing of the past, and will continue to work with him to reach this admirable goal.  We also look forward to Grameen Bank and its 8.3 million borrower-owners continuing its long, proud tradition of being a beacon for the microfinance community, and call on the Bangladesh government to respect the independence of Grameen Bank during this new era.  As Prof. Yunus said in his resignation statement, “I hope Grameen Bank will continue to operate, maintaining its independence and character under the Grameen Bank Ordinance and move toward even greater success.”