Sunday, June 20, 2010

Grameen Bank : Barefoot Bankers?

Banker to the Poor : the story of the Grameen Bank, authored by Dr Muhammad Yunus (b. 1940) with Alan Jolis (an American Journalist) is in fact an excellent autobiography of the Winner of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize.  An Economics Professor of University responding to the poverty-sticken rural women in Jobra Village near Chittagong, initially through voluntary group of his students for social service and subsequently engaging Barefoot Bankers travelling to rural side is unique of its kind. Yunus was educated in Chittagong, was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship and received his Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University, Tennessee, USA.

What started in a small humble way in 1976 in a village in the backward third world country gained momentum in years thereafter and caught up the world over.  Bangladesh was earlier known as East Bengal (West Bengal is a State in India now) and part of India till 1947 under British Rule.  When India got its independence, Pakistan was created simultaneously, but interestingly as two parts located in West and East of India. These two parts were comprising predominantly of Muslim population. It was in 1970-71, there was civil war for liberation and with the help and support of India, a new tiny country was born in 1971 called Bangladesh.  However, the politican environment was always similar to Pakistan with struggle for power between civilian and military governments very frequently.  In the process, welfare of the poor was neglected.  There emerges a Social Entrepreneur and savour of the masses, Dr Muhammad Yunus in mid-seventies, primarily to stave the Bangladesh's terrible 1974 famine, with a very innovative movement called Grameen, later turned to be  Grameen Bank of Bangladesh

The story of Grameen does not end with a bank in Bangladesh.  The movement of micro creditwas extended to nearly sixty countries world over including USA.  Grameen Bank is a billion-pound business acknowledged by world leaders and the World Bank asa a fundamental weapon in the fight against poverty. During the course of his struggle to mobilise funds and people power, Dr Yunus had to encounter several odds from the citizen, religious men, politicians, bureaucrats, Government and the World Bank too. 

Grameen Bank today is not a single entity but a conglomorate.  Its group consists of four for-profit organisations and thirteen not-for-ptofit units.  These for profit units are 1. Grameen Bank - Credit for the poor (1983) 2.Gonoshasthaya Grameen Textile - Hand-loom fabric processing plant (1995) 3. Grameen Cybernet - Internet Service Provider (1996) 4. Grameen Phone - National Cellular Telephone Company (1996).  The 13 Not-for-Profit units are 1. Grameen Trust - Technical and Financial Support for Replication of Grameen approach worldwide (1989) 2. Grameen Agricultural Foundation - To promote agricultural technology, improve yield, initiate diversification for export (1991) 3. Grameen Uddog - Production, Marketing and Export of Handwoven Fabrics, i.e.,Grameen Check (1994) 4. Grameen Fund - A Social Venture Fund for New Entrepreneurs (1994) 5. Grameen Fisheries Foundation - to bring idle ponds into high-yielding pisiculture (1994) 6. Grameen Telecom - providing Cellular Phone and Telecom Services in Rural Areas (1995) 7. Grameen Shamogree - Marketing of Grameen Products (1996) 8. Grameen Shakti - for Research and Marketing of Solar and Wind Energy on a Commercial Basis (1996) 9. Grameen Kalyan - Welfare Programmes for Grameen Members and Staff (1996) 10. Grameen Shikka - Educational Programmes (1997) 11. Grameen Communications - Nationwide network for Internet, Data Processing Services (1997) 12. Grameen Knitwear Ltd - Export-Oriented Knitwear Factory (1997)  and 13. Grameen Securities Management Ltd - A Merchang Banking Fund and Portfolio Management Company (1998).

Having read the book, I felt mind boggling that one individual runs so many activities and organisations in a small country always with problems of poverty, famine, floods and political turmoils.  He is a parallel Government for the Poor and a role model for Academicians, Politicians, Bureacrats, Leaders, Businessmen, Religious Gurus, Social Philanthrophists, and what not?  But, one thing but puzzles and baffles me, that he made a very minimum reference to India.   After all, he was a born Indian in 1940, grew up in East Pakistan, rose to an intellectual in USA and came back to Bangladesh (a new born tiny Asian country since 1971.

India adopted rural development and banking in a extensive way eversince its independence in 1947.  It tried Cooperative Banking system, turned Imperial Bank to State Bank of India with focus on rural banking in 1955, nationalised 14 and 6 Commercial Banks in 1969 and 1980, adopted Lead Banking System in 1969, started exclusive and specialised Regional Rural Banks in 1975 and experimented Local Area Banks in 1995 and so on.  Indian Banking System had Integrated Rural Development Program, created DRDAs and SFDAs for poverty alleviation in rural areas.  NABARD and SIDBI are the apex bodies catering to Agriculture and Small & Medium Entreprises under the Priority Credit System in banks.  Micro Finance Institutions are all over in the country dedicated to lending to the poor.  Some of the prominent MFIs are SEWA, SKS, BASIX, Bandhan, Spandana, etc.  Financial Inclusion is given highest priority by RBI and NABARD in the last five years.  Of course, there is no comparison between Bangladesh and India - in their size, history, culture, civilisation, geography (though they are neighbours), size of population, political system, etc.  Yet in one of the Chapters, Yunus makes a passing reference that alongwith several other Asian, African, American and European Countries having adopted his Grameen Model, India is also one of them!

No comments: