By: John S Shilshi, Kangala Online, 22nd Oct 2006
When the Norwegian Nobel Committee officially announced the name of Mohammad Yunus and his Grameen Bank as the recipient of this year’s Nobel Prize for Peace, Yunus himself must have been one among many around the world who were taken by surprise. Surprised, not because Mohammad Yunus was out of contention or something like that, but because he is a Professor in rural economics by profession, and the Grameen Bank which he pioneered that has since changed the lives of millions of women in Bangladesh is directly connected to economic activities – empowering the poor through micro credits. Therefore, ideally, many would have hoped that if at all the honor was done to him; the committee would do so for Nobel Prize in economics and not for peace. But the Nobel Committee in Norway thought it otherwise, and quite rightly so, honored him with the World’s most prestigious Award for peace.
In the citation for Mohammad Yunus and his Graemeen Bank, the Nobel Committee wrote, “their efforts showed how working to eliminate poverty can result in a lasting peace. Lasting peace cannot be achieved unless large population groups find ways to get out of poverty. Micro credit is one such means. Development from below also serves to advance democracy and human rights.” This statement of the Nobel citation indeed says it all. In today’s world seventy five percent of the conflicts, both inter-state and intra-state, are results of disputes over resources. Twenty percent of the world’s richest nations consume 86% of the resources, while the remaining eighty percent of the poor nations consume 14% of the world’s resources. The inequalities are hardly different when viewed from a regional or a country perspective; it is the rich who consume 80% of the resources, while the poor slog over the remaining 20%.
It is therefore hardly surprising that all around the globe, in every continent, the world is conflict ridden as of today. And in order to tackle these conflicts that threaten the very existence of mankind, the world is spending a large chunk of its resources, but with little or no signs of positive outcomes in sight. We may look at South Asia’s situations as an example. All the major countries in the region; India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh are in conflict situations. And to be precise, Sri Lanka spends 4.1% of its GDP in conflict related expenditures, followed by Pakistan with 3.5%, India and Nepal with 2.5% each, and Bangladesh with 1.5% of its GDP. Yet the conflicting scenarios in these countries are far from being mitigated. Instead, there are every signs of them being protracted, probably to consume more and more their scarce resources. Perhaps, the world and the region we lived in understood the meaning of “lasting peace” too late.
Paul Collier argued that “once conflict gets its seed sown, getting back to peace appears to be hard, because once a conflict is developed, even when peace is re-establish, it is often fragile.” This indeed is historically proven fact. No where in the entire world, conflict situations have been brought to zero levels once they existed, even with substantial spending and the involvements of the world’s most powerful nations. Therefore the fundamental theme behind Paul’s argument is that, as far as possible conflict should not be allowed to raise its head. This is what the Nobel committee called “lasting peace” while scripting down the citation for Mohammad Yunus and his Graemeen Bank of Bangladesh. From that afternoon in 1976, when Yunus loaned $27 to a woman in Jobra village of Bangladesh to enable her purchase a raw material, he was already taking a major step towards ensuring a conflict less world. And when these small loans continued and got formalized into a Micro credit bank (Grameen Bank) in 1983, that step got concretized itself into an institution.
The bottom line of Yunus’s Grameen Bank as of today is a profit earned amounting to $15 million. The Bank has a flawless recovery record of 98.5 % which is almost double the figure that convention Banks, who extend loans to affluent society are said to have achieved. Currently, the Bank has 6.61 million Borrowers, lending out $5.72 billion to empower the poorest of the poor in poverty ridden Bangladesh, of which 97% of borrowers are women. Impressive! Particularly when one considers the humble beginning how it all started. But what is even more important is not the economics that is involved, but the social implications to humanity at large. Prof. Yunus and his Grameen Bank, through this noble initiative, have surely done a world of good to Bangladesh, South Asia and the world at large in reducing the numbers of potential actors of conflict in the process of alleviating poverty.
In a world, otherwise bruised and wounded by incidence of conflict, one cannot help thanking Prof. Yunus for trying to dole out a piece of “lasting peace”, may be unconsciously. He has a dream of doing away with poverty completely, at least in his country Bangladesh. And to this end he once said that, “one day our grandchildren will go to Museums to see what poverty was like”. We wish his dream comes true; for in the realization of his dream, the world will have a silver spot where human beings can celebrate a thing call “life” free from hatreds, disputes, and conflicts. We salute you Sir.