Grameen Bank

Grameen Bank

Grameen Bank: see Yunus, Muhammad.

Bank in Bangladesh, the first bank to specialize in small loans for poor individuals. Originated by economist Muhammad Yunus, the Grameen banking model is based on groups of five prospective borrowers who meet regularly with Grameen Bank field managers. Typically, two of the five prospective borrowers are granted loans. If, after a probationary time period, the first two borrowers meet the terms of repayment, then loans are granted to the remaining group members. Peer pressure acts as a replacement for traditional loan collateral. Grameen became an independent bank in 1983; headquartered in Dhaka, Bangladesh, it has more than 2,200 branches in the country. An average Grameen loan is about $300. The Grameen model has come to symbolize an efficient means of helping the poor by providing them with opportunities to help themselves. Nearly all of Grameen's loan recipients have been women. In 2006 Grameen Bank and Yunus were awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace.

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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.

History

Muhammad Yunus, the bank's founder, earned a doctorate in economics from Vanderbilt University in the United States. He was inspired during the terrible Bangladesh famine of 1974 to make a small loan of USD 27 to a group of 42 families so that they could create small items for sale without the burdens of predatory lending. Yunus believed that making such loans available to a wide population would have a positive impact on the rampant rural poverty in Bangladesh.

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.

Application of microcredit

16 Decisions
  1. We shall follow and advance the four principles of Grameen Bank: Discipline, Unity, Courage and Hard work – in all walks of our lives.
  2. Prosperity we shall bring to our families.
  3. We shall not live in dilapidated houses. We shall repair our houses and work towards constructing new houses at the earliest.
  4. We shall grow vegetables all the year round. We shall eat plenty of them and sell the surplus.
  5. During the plantation seasons, we shall plant as many seedlings as possible.
  6. We shall plan to keep our families small. We shall minimize our expenditures. We shall look after our health.
  7. We shall educate our children and ensure that they can earn to pay for their education.
  8. We shall always keep our children and the environment clean.
  9. We shall build and use pit-latrines.
  10. We shall drink water from tubewells. If it is not available, we shall boil water or use alum.
  11. We shall not take any dowry at our sons' weddings, neither shall we give any dowry at our daughter's wedding. We shall keep our centre free from the curse of dowry. We shall not practice child marriage.
  12. We shall not inflict any injustice on anyone, neither shall we allow anyone to do so.
  13. We shall collectively undertake bigger investments for higher incomes.
  14. We shall always be ready to help each other. If anyone is in difficulty, we shall all help him or her.
  15. If we come to know of any breach of discipline in any centre, we shall all go there and help restore discipline.
  16. We shall take part in all social activities collectively.

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.

Village Phone Program

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.

Struggling members program

In 2003, Grameen Bank started a new program, different from its traditional group-based lending, exclusively targeted to the beggars in Bangladesh. This program is focused on distributing small loans to beggars. The existing rules of banking are not applied, the loans are completely interest-free, the repayment period can be arbitrarily long, for example, a beggar taking a small loan of around 100 taka (about US $1.50) can pay only 2.00 taka (about 3.4 US cents) per week and furthermore the borrower is covered under life insurance free of cost.

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).

Operational statistics

One unusual feature of the Grameen Bank is that it is owned by the poor borrowers of the bank, most of whom are women. Of the total equity of the bank, the borrowers own 94%, and the remaining 6% is owned by the Government of Bangladesh.

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.

Nobel Peace Prize

Grameen Bank received several prestigious awards including the highest civilian award in Bangladesh, the Independence Day Award, in 1994. However, the greatest recognition of the bank's achievements came on October 13, 2006, when the Nobel Committee awarded Grameen Bank and its founder, Muhammad Yunus, the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize "for their efforts to create economic and social development from below." The award announcement also mentions that:
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.

Related ventures

The Grameen Bank has grown into over two dozen enterprises represented by the Grameen Family of Enterprises. These organizations include Grameen Trust, Grameen Fund, Grameen Communications, Grameen Shakti (Grameen Energy), Grameen Telecom, Grameen Shikkha (Grameen Education), Grameen Motsho (Grameen Fisheries), Grameen Baybosa Bikash (Grameen Business Development), Grameen Phone, Grameen Software Limited, Grameen CyberNet Limited, Grameen Knitwear Limited, and Grameen Uddog (owner of the brand Grameen Check).

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:

Criticism

Sudhirendar Sharma, a development analyst, claims that the Grameen Bank has "landed poor communities in a perpetual debt-trap", and that its ultimate benefit goes to the corporations that sell capital goods and infrastructure to the borrowers. It has also attracted criticism from the former Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, who commented, "There is no difference between usurers [Yunus] and corrupt people. Hasina touches upon one criticism of Grameen Bank: the high rate of interest that the bank demands from those seeking credit. Similar to all microfinance institutes, the interest charged by Grameen Bank is higher compared to that of traditional banks, as Grameen's interest (reducing balance basis) on its main credit product is about 20%. The Mises Institute's Jeffrey Tucker has criticized the Grameen Bank, asserting that the Grameen Bank and others based on the Grameen model are not economically viable and depend on subsidies in order to operate, thus essentially becoming another example of welfare. Another source of criticism is that of the Grameen's Sixteen Decisions. Critics say that the bank's Sixteen Decisions force families and borrowers to abide by the rules and regulations set forth by the bank.

See also

Notes

  • Bornstein, David. The Price of a Dream: The Story of the Grameen Bank. Oxford University Press, NY: 2005, ISBN 0-19-518749-0
  • Counts, Alex, Give Us Credit , Crown, 1996, ISBN 0-8129-2464-9
  • Sachs, Jeffrey. "The End of Poverty". Penguin Books, NY: 2005, ISBN 0-14-303658-0
  • Yunus, Muhammad (with Alan Jolis), Banker to the Poor: The Autobiography of Muhammad Yunus, Founder of Grameen Bank, Oxford University Press: USA, ISBN 0-19-579537-7
  • "Micro Loans for the Very Poor", New York Times, February 16, 1997
  • Cockburn, Alexander, "A Nobel Peace Prize for Neoliberalism?" http://www.counterpunch.org/cockburn10202006.html

References

External links

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