Thursday, March 4, 2010

The hope called Yunus

Penny came home from a lecture on Tuesday night full of excitement.

The lecture, before a capacity crowd at Hammons Hall, was delivered by 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Muhammad Yunus. Dr. Yunus is an economist and university lecturer who pioneered microcredit in his home country of Bangladesh.

Penny said Dr. Yunus was more a storyteller than lecturer. He talked about discovering that poor people in a village close to his university were in debt to local money lenders, with little hope of ever escaping. He learned that the sum total of the villagers' indebtedness was $27. He lent them the money, which they eventually repaid.

And thus began his experience with microcredit. Dr. Yunus went on to set up a microcredit bank, the Grammen Bank, which has opened branches in the developing world and in the United States.

Microlenders make small loans, usually a few hundred dollars, to establish or expand businesses. Microcredit lifts people out of poverty and promotes economic growth and a higher standard of living.

A few years ago, "60 Minutes"profiled Dr. Yunus. It told the story of a man who used a microloan to buy a telephone and install a phone line at his small shop. This phone linked the villagers and their family members scattered around the world. The man provided a service, increased his revenues, and repaid his loan.

In his lecture here, Dr. Yunus also spoke about "social business," whereby a company applies its capital and know-how, creating products that solve social problems and help people, especially the poor.

In one country, he said, poor people were developing foot diseases because they couldn't afford shoes. They had to go without them, which exposed their bare feet to injury and infections.

Dr. Yunus approached Adidas with the problem, and the company responded. It built one plant and then others to manufacture low-cost shoes, making footwear affordable for the poor. Likely,
Adidas made only a small profit on the shoes, but it did earn a huge, social profit: the satisfaction that it had done something to help the poor live better lives.

What excites me about Dr. Yunus is that he's a man of action. He isn't letting despair keep him from solving problems. He's showing that human ingenuity, compassion, and the resolve to push past "No, we can't" to "Yes, we can" are powerful drivers for creating a better world.

Yes, we humans face huge problems of global pollution and climate warming, rampant disease and famine, too few schools and jobs, political corruption and oppression, war and violence, and more. And, yes, some people say these problems are insoluble, that it's better to wait for Jesus to return and take care of everything for us.

And they're right. Partially. Jesus, the Christ, will return and will take care of everything for us--every time we act in faith and hope, letting him work in and through us for that new creation.

Thank God for Dr. Mohammad Yunus and leaders like him. They're showing me the way and inspiring me to act.

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