Trophy for Yunus

For Bangladeshis it was much greater than winning the World Cup. No levity intended. For a country very short of anything to celebrate, the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank was the best thing to happen since Bangladesh gained status as a legitimate cricket-playing country. It has made every Bangladeshi walk taller than they have before.   A Bangladeshi is generally looked down upon everywhere he goes. Only a citizen of this country can understand the collective shame that is heaped on everyone who is stamped by that identity. On the day the Nobel Prize committee announced the award, the joy that swept the country and its huge expatriate population was as if each and every citizen had won the prize. Yunus had brought home the trophy.   It is fitting that the Nobel committee recognised Yunus as a 'peace' person rather than as an economist, although his main work does deal with an innovative method of credit access that has gained global credibility. Grameen Bank lends miniscule amounts of money to the poor in Bangladesh to initiate self-employment projects. It has reached millions of people, and while it is not a 'miracle' solution to endemic poverty as some have said, Bangladesh and many of the world's poor have not yet found a better option.   Professor Yunus had been on the list for the Nobel Prize for over a decade, something for which Bill Clinton deserves significant credit. Before he even became US president, Clinton had stated outright that "Yunus deserves a Nobel Prize", after he had witnessed the effect the Grameen micro-credit model had had on his native, impoverished Arkansas, having helped many to overcome deep poverty. Such words awakened the world to a model that broke conventional banking and economic wisdom, and it came from a country practically written off in most parts of the world.   Nothing micro about it
When the initiative began, it was not universally welcomed by the international economic community, and the major financial institutions were harshly critical. Most of the arguments against Grameen were economic in nature. The far left also criticised the bank for being a US ploy and an extension of the market economy. Like all visionaries, however, Yunus carried on till the proof of his work lay in the pudding, and almost everyone was lapping it up.   Credit-related activities have always been part of Bangladesh's development approach. NGOs such as ASA (the Association for Social Advancement) are considered larger operators than Grameen Bank in the micro-credit sector, while BRAC (the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee), the world's largest NGO, runs multiple programmes including micro-credit operations in Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Tanzania and Uganda. Micro-credit operations have become key entry points for these organisations.   While one wonders in dismay at the performance level of the state players and other national-level actors – politicians, bureaucrats, academics, media and other professionals – the much maligned private-sector development arena has developed an impressive score sheet. Societal institutions seem to have had far greater effect than has the state in Bangladesh, and NGOs have become a legitimate presence, generating more livelihoods than any other, and almost entirely without the taint of corruption. It will be increasingly difficult to ignore the Bangladeshi NGOs, particularly with this new international recognition of Yunus and Grameen.   In the end, this Nobel Prize is a victory for a people lost without a leader. The third Bengali Nobel laureate and the first Bangladeshi Nobel Prize winner reflects what is possible when innovation is applied in the developing world. Bangladesh shares the prize with every citizen of Southasia, and the developing world at large.

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Himal Southasian