The United States is deeply concerned about the future of one of Bangladesh’s most successful anti-poverty institutions, Grameen Bank. A proposed law change approved by the Cabinet of Bangladesh would give the bank's government-appointed chairman more control over the search process to designate Grameen’s next managing director, an authority now held by the bank's board of directors. This move would diminish the role that the bank’s largely female borrower-shareholders play in shaping the direction of an institution that has improved the lives of millions of impoverished women in Bangladesh, and indeed around the world.
In 1976, Muhammad Yunus, an economics professor in Bangladesh, discovered that a very small loan, issued on fair terms, could make an enormous difference to the poorest of the poor and their ability to make a living. He lent $27 of his own money to 42 women who supported themselves by manufacturing and selling handicrafts so they could purchase supplies. Free from the exorbitant rates charged by money lenders, the women made a profit and returned the loan with interest.
This was the idea behind Grameen Bank, which became an independent institution in 1983. Today it has some 9 million borrowers, over 95 percent of them women. The Bank’s customers hold 94 percent of the shares in the bank, while the government of Bangladesh holds the remaining 6 percent.
In recognition for “their efforts to create economic and social development from below,” Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank were jointly awarded the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, and numerous other prizes including the Independence Day Award, the highest civilian accolade in Bangladesh.
The United States is concerned that the push to expand the power of the bank’s government-appointed chairman is a step toward increasing government control over the bank while diminishing the influence of its borrower-shareholders.
“We call on the Government of Bangladesh to respect the integrity, effectiveness, and independence of Grameen Bank,” said State Department acting deputy spokesperson Patrick Ventrell. “We urge the Bangladeshi Government to ensure transparency in the selection of a new managing director who has unquestioned integrity, competence, and dedication to preserving Grameen Bank, its unique governance structure, and its effectiveness in bringing development and hope to 8.3 million of Bangladesh’s most vulnerable citizens, mostly women.”