The Grameen Bank (গ্রামীণ ব্যাংক) is a microfinance organization and community development bank started in Bangladesh that makes small loans (known as microcredit or "grameencredit" to the impoverished without requiring collateral. The word "Grameen", derived from the word "gram" or "village", means "of the village". The system of this bank is based on the idea that the poor have skills that are under-utilized. A group-based credit approach is applied which utilizes the peer-pressure within the group to ensure the borrowers follow through and use caution in conducting their financial affairs with strict discipline, ensuring repayment eventually and allowing the borrowers to develop good credit standing. The bank also accepts deposits, provides other services, and runs several development-oriented businesses including fabric, telephone and energy companies. Another distinctive feature of the bank's credit program is that a significant majority of its borrowers are women.
The origin of Grameen Bank can be traced back to 1976 when Professor Muhammad Yunus, a Fulbright scholar and Professor at University of Chittagong, launched a research project to examine the possibility of designing a credit delivery system to provide banking services targeted to the rural poor. In October 1983, the Grameen Bank Project was transformed into an independent bank by government legislation. The organization and its founder, Muhammad Yunus, were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.
Grameen Bank has sometimes been accused of charging relatively high interest rate and putting people in debt-trap. Some have also doubted whether the business model of the bank is a sustainable one without the explicit and implicit donor support that it receives. At the same time, it is often cited as a success story in microfinance and serves as a model for institutions with similar philosophy world-wide.
The Grameen Bank (literally, "Bank of the Villages", in Bangla) is the outgrowth of Yunus' ideas. The bank began as a research project by Yunus and the Rural Economics Project at Bangladesh's University of Chittagong to test his method for providing credit and banking services to the rural poor. In 1976, the village of Jobra and other villages surrounding the University of Chittagong became the first areas eligible for service from Grameen Bank. The Bank was immensely successful and the project, with support from the central Bangladesh Bank, was introduced in 1979 to the Tangail District (to the north of the capital, Dhaka). The bank's success continued and it soon spread to various other districts of Bangladesh. By a Bangladeshi government ordinance on October 2, 1983, the project was transformed into an independent bank. Bankers from ShoreBank, a community development bank in Chicago, helped Yunus with the official incorporation of the bank under a grant from the Ford Foundation. The bank's repayment rate was hit following the 1998 flood of Bangladesh before recovering again in subsequent years. By the beginning of 2005, the bank had loaned over USD 4.7 billion to the poor.
The Bank today continues to expand across the nation and still provides small loans to the rural poor. By 2006, Grameen Bank branches numbered over 2,100. Its success has inspired similar projects in more than 40 countries around the world and has made World Bank to take an initiative to finance Grameen-type schemes.
The bank gets its funding from different sources, and the main contributors have shifted over time. In the initial years, donor agencies used to provide the bulk of capital at very cheap rates. In the mid-1990s, the bank started to get most of its funding from the central bank of Bangladesh. More recently, Grameen has started bond sales as a source of finance. The bonds are implicitly subsidised as they are guaranteed by the Government of Bangladesh and still they are sold above the bank rate.
Grameen Bank is best known for its system of solidarity lending. The Bank also incorporates a set of values embodied in Bangladesh by the Sixteen Decisions. At every branch of Grameen Bank the borrowers recite these Decisions and vow to follow them. As a result of the Sixteen Decisions, Grameen borrowers have been encouraged to adopt positive social habits. One such habit includes educating children by sending them to school. Since the Grameen Bank embraced the Sixteen Decisions, almost all Grameen borrowers have their school-age children enrolled in regular classes. This in turn help bring about social change, and educate the next generation.
Solidarity lending is a cornerstone of microcredit and the system is now at work in over 43 countries. Although each borrower must belong to a five-member group, the group is not required to give any guarantee for a loan to its member. Repayment responsibility solely rests on the individual borrower, while the group and the centre oversee that everyone behaves in a responsible way and none gets into a repayment problem. There is no form of joint liability, i.e. group members are not obliged to pay on behalf of a defaulting member. However, in practice the group members often contribute the defaulted amount with an intention of collecting the money from the defaulted member at a later time. Such behavior is facilitated by Grameen's policy of not extending any further credit to a group in which a member defaults.
There is no legal instrument between Grameen Bank and its borrowers, the system works based on trust. To supplement the lending, Grameen Bank also requires the borrowing members to save very small amounts regularly in a number of funds like emergency fund, group fund etc. These savings help serve as an insurance against contingencies.
In a country in which few women may take out loans from large commercial banks, Grameen has focused on women borrowers as 97% of its members are women. While a World Bank study has concluded that women's access to microcredit empowers them through greater access to resources and control over decision making, some other economists argue that the relationship between microcredit and women-empowerment is less straight-forward. In other areas, Grameen's track record has also been notable, with very high payback rates—over 98 percent. However, according to the Wall Street Journal, a fifth of the bank's loans were more than a year overdue in 2001. Grameen claims that more than half of its borrowers in Bangladesh (close to 50 million) have risen out of acute poverty thanks to their loan, as measured by such standards as having all children of school age in school, all household members eating three meals a day, a sanitary toilet, a rainproof house, clean drinking water and the ability to repay a 300 taka-a-week (around 4 USD) loan.
Among many different applications of microcredit by the bank, one is the Village Phone program, through which women entrepreneurs can start a business providing wireless payphone service in rural areas of Bangladesh. This program earned the bank the 2004 Petersberg Prize worth of EUR 100,000/-, for its contribution of Technology to Development. In the press release announcing the prize, the Development Gateway Foundation noted that through this program:
...Grameen has created a new class of women entrepreneurs who have raised themselves from poverty. Moreover, it has improved the livelihoods of farmers and others who are provided access to critical market information and lifeline communications previously unattainable in some 28,000 villages of Bangladesh. More than 55,000 phones are currently in operation, with more than 80 million people benefiting from access to market information, news from relatives, and more.
The bank does not force borrowers to give up begging; rather it encourages them to use the loans for generating income by selling low-priced items. Based on a paper presented in the Global Microcredit Summit in 2006 by one of the bank's managers, as of May 2006, around 73,000 beggars have taken loans of about Tk 58.32 million (approx. USD 833,150) and repaid Tk. 34.78 million (about USD 496,900).
The bank has grown significantly between 2003-2007. As of October 2007, the total borrowers of the bank number 7.34 million, and 97% of those are women. The number of borrowers has increased more than two-fold since 2003, when the bank had only 3.12 million members. Similar growth can be observed in the number of villages covered. As of October 2007, the Bank has a staff of over 24,703 employees and 2,468 branches covering 80,257 villages, up from 43,681 villages covered in 2003. Since its inception, the bank has distributed Tk 347.75 billion (USD 6.55 billion) in loans. Out of this, Tk 313.11 billion (USD 5.87 billion) has been repaid. The bank claims a loan recovery rate of 98.35%, up from the 95% recovery rate claimed in 1998. However, many critics doubt this recovery rate and the definition that Grameen uses to come up with this rate.
From modest beginnings three decades ago, Yunus has, first and foremost through Grameen Bank, developed micro-credit into an ever more important instrument in the struggle against poverty. Grameen Bank has been a source of ideas and models for the many institutions in the field of micro-credit that have sprung up around the world.On December 10, 2006, Mosammat Taslima Begum, who used her first 16-euro (20-dollar) loan from the bank in 1992 to buy a goat and subsequently became a successful entrepreneur and one of the elected board members of the bank, accepted the Nobel Prize on behalf of Grameen Bank's investors and borrowers at the prize awarding ceremony held at Oslo City Hall.
Grameen Bank is the only business corporation to have won a Nobel Prize. In a speech given at the presentation ceremony, Professor Ole Danbolt Mjøs, Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, mentioned that, by giving the prize to Grameen Bank and Muhammad Yunus, the Norwegian Nobel Committee wished to focus attention on dialogue with the Muslim world, on the women's perspective, and on the fight against poverty.
The Nobel prize announcement was celebrated with a lot of enthusiasm in Bangladesh. Some critics asserted that the award affirms neoliberalism.
On July 11, 2005 the Grameen Mutual Fund One (GMFO), approved by the Securities and Exchange Commission of Bangladesh, was listed as an Initial Public Offering. One of the first mutual funds of its kind, GMFO will allow the over four million Grameen bank members, as well as non-members, to buy into Bangladesh's capital markets. The Bank and its constituents are together worth over USD 7.4 billion.
The work of Grameen Bank in Bangladesh Inspired the creation of the Grameen Foundation, which aims to share the Grameen philosophy and accelerate the impact of microfinance on the world’s poorest people. Grameen Foundation USA, which has an A-rating from Charity Watch, not only provides microloans in the USA itself (the only rich country where this is done), but also supports microfinance institutions worldwide with loan guarantees, training, and technology transfer. As of 2008, Grameen Foundation supports microfinance institutions in the following regions: