U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton telephoned Nobel Peace laureate Dr. Muhammad Yunus on March 8 to express her support for his work as Managing Director of Grameen Bank, and his longstanding advocacy on behalf of the world’s poor. The State Department also, through its then-Spokesman P.J. Crowley, voiced concern about the Bangladeshi government's effort to remove him from Grameen Bank, the pioneering microfinance lender he founded.
"We are troubled by the letter that [Bangladesh's Central Bank] sent to the Grameen Bank concerning Dr. Yunus' status as managing director," Crowley told told reporters. "We continue to follow developments closely and await clarification from the government of Bangladesh and Grameen Bank."
In 1976, while visiting poor households in the village of Jobra, Bangladesh, Dr. Yunus discovered that very small loans lent to the poor could make a disproportionate difference in their lives. His earliest loans, consisting of $27 from his own pocket, were made to 42 women entrepreneurs from the village of Jobra. These women were able to make a profit, and repaid his loans. Traditional banks were not interested in making small loans at reasonable interest rates to the poor due to high repayment risks. Dr. Yunus believed that given a chance, the poor will repay the borrowed money. He founded Grameen Bank to provide small loans to poor entrepreneurs without collateral in rural areas of Bangladesh to help them establish financial self-sufficiency and credit worthiness. Today, Grameen Bank has eight million borrowers, 97 percent of whom are women.
The success of microcredit financing in Bangladesh has inspired similar efforts in dozens of countries around the world. Many microcredit projects retain their emphasis on lending to women, who suffer disproportionately from poverty, and who are more likely than men to devote their earnings to their families.
"His public service is widely recognized and respected," Mr. Crowley said of Dr. Yunus, "and civil society organizations such as the [Grameen Bank] play an important role in Bangladesh’s development and democracy. ... We hope that a mutually satisfactory compromise can be achieved that will ensure Grameen Bank's autonomy and effectiveness."