Nobel Prize: Money not the whole story

When he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last year, Yunus said that Grameen Bank had lent nearly $6 billion over the last 30 years in loans that average $130 each. A key stipulation of the program is that its loans must be for income-producing activities, not consumption. But, perhaps more important, Grameen’s borrowers also must commit to the program’s “16 decisions,” which include family planning, educating their children, not accepting or giving dowries, and embracing “discipline, unity, courage and hard work” in all walks of life. (…)

The most important lesson from Grameen is that cultural values, even those long entrenched, can be successfully modified. Bangladesh is a Muslim country, where concepts such as charging interest or using contraception are considered “un-Islamic.” Yet, by using micro-loans as a cultural stimulus as well as an economic instrument, Yunus changes the attitudes of his fellow citizens at the grass-roots level. (…)

The operational details of Grameen are equally noteworthy. By requiring weekly payments, borrowers are constantly reminded of their obligations. The close relationship between borrowers and lenders means that they know exactly the consequences of non-repayments: other potential borrowers — often fellow villagers — will be deprived of their opportunities. Grameen’s emphasis on behavioral changes alone may indeed be more of a help in easing people out of poverty than the money itself. (…)

The Grameen Bank miracle is in using those micro-loans as a social stimulus to effect needed changes in personal behavior and cultural values. This key point is often missed by those enthusiastic in replicating the bank’s success. (International Herald Tribune)

See also: Microcredit