Volunteers for Microfinance

ICV at the International Syposium
Photo © Ivo Naepflin
Photo © Ivo Naepflin
Irene Amodei, Erika Troutman, David Fisk; French translation by Margaret Flez; Spanish translation by Audrey Tenedos
20 October 2008

The World Microfinance Forum organized its first International Symposium, "Building Fair Financial Markets for All", last 1-2 October 2008 in Geneva, at the ILO.
ICVolunteers was deeply involved in the event, helping in relevant conference services such as participants registration, room supervision, stand coordination, photographing and reporting. A team of 16 writers attended all the sessions in order to produce detailed reports, which will be used as base for a more general overview of the conference discussions.
One of the principal lecturers hosted by the Symposium was Nobel Peace Prize Muhammad Yunus, Founder and President of the Grameen Bank, the well-known microfinance institution which aims at ensuring that the poor have an enabling environment to change their lives and break out the cycle of poverty.
Here below, we publish the report wrote by Erika Troutman and David Fisk and revised by Sarah Webborn, How Grameen Bank's Innovations Build Microfinance Markets.

The image Muhammad Yunus used to explain to people why microfinance was needed in the early days was that of a horror film. He said that if he were a Hollywood filmmaker, he would make a horror story where suddenly one day the banking system doesn't work anymore, bank accounts, credit cards, nothing works.  Everything is frozen.  He would like the rest of the world's population to understand that this is exactly the situation for those in poverty and that this nightmare continues each day.

The picture looks more positive now, as Grameen Bank has become a success story and numerous other institutions have been created based on similar models. According to Mr. Yunus' own statistics, the Grameen Bank has 7.5 million borrowers, of whom 97% are women with very high repayment rates (98%); women, who, through no inherent fault of their own, never before had access to what Mr. Yunus calls the "ocean of money". These women, in turn, are using these funds to increase the living standards of their families and communities, spending on family health, housing and education. It is becoming apparent to the world that microfinance can be a tool to lift the poor out of poverty.

They clients "lift themselves" because one of the main ideas behind Grameen's Bank is sustainability through self-reliance. This means that as the poor struggle to move up the economic ladder and pay back their funds, these repayments become the base with which the next clients are funded. Eventually, self-reliance will be strengthened incredibly by these same people making enough money to begin depositing modest savings in the bank. One of the most distinguishing features of the Grameen Bank is that the clients are the base of its shareholders, meaning the majority of the banks owners are the poor women clientele. "All humans have the same potential", stated Mr. Yunus, "we facilitate [the poor] so they can unleash their own energy and creativity".

Grameen Bank continues to evolve with its clients, offering a broader range of services as the needs become apparent. One programme has developed deals with beggars, motivating them to manage small sales as they go about their normal routine. Mr. Yunus stated that "this has given them the option between sales and/or charity". The statistics show that this programme is thriving with over 100,000 beggars using it, 11,000 of whom have stopped begging. When dealing with any financial crisis one must be open to new ideas, growth and evolution. Mr. Yunus asked "If we had given this [money] as a grant would there have been any change?"
Not only are services spreading and evolving with the bank, but also the clients as well. Mr. Yunus related a story of an illiterate mother who is a client and part owner of Grameen Bank. She followed the bank's "Sixteen Decisions", with the result that she began sending her children to school. Her daughter did well and is now a doctor. Mr. Yunus said "the thought [that] comes to mind is that her mother could have been a doctor too, but nobody ever gave her a chance". One of the newer areas Grameen Bank is looking for collaborators with is the area of health as a social business. 'Social business' is one of the important terms Grameen keeps coming back to because it is a key point in their philosophy of the who/what/where/why/when/how of microfinance. Working to relieve poverty must be the main objective, never profit. One can make a profit with microfinance, but, for the business to maintain its credibility and sustainability for its clients, it must always be what Mr. Yunus calls "a cause-driven business".

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