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Economist to discuss ending poverty

Muhammad Yunus
Muhammad Yunus
Photo courtesy / Grameen Bank

Muhammad Yunus, the Bangladeshi economist who pioneered the microcredit movement, will deliver a talk titled "Ending Global Poverty" on Wednesday, Sept. 14, in Kirsch Auditorium at the Stata Center, from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m.

"Dr. Yunus is one of the world leaders seeking innovative solutions to the challenges poor people face," said Professor Abhijit Banerjee, co-director of the MIT Poverty Action Lab, which is sponsoring the talk. "We are honored and proud to have him visit us."

Located in the MIT Department of Economics, the Poverty Action Lab seeks to translate research into action that helps the lives of the poor in their communities.

MIT President Susan Hockfield will introduce Yunus, the author of the best-selling 1999 book, "Banker to the Poor: Microlending and the Battle Against World Poverty." Yunus currently serves as the ambassador for the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

Yunus is the founder and managing director of Grameen Bank, which operates in 36,000 rural Bangladeshi villages and has provided unsecured credit to more than 2 million of the country's poorest people. Ninety-four percent of Grameen's clients are women. Their individual loans may be as low as pennies per day. Their rate of repayment is 98 percent.

A Fulbright Scholar who studied at Vanderbilt University, where he received his Ph.D. in 1969, Yunus returned to Bangladesh to participate in building the then-new nation. He expected to use his advanced degrees and apply macroeconomic theory to help his country.

After returning, he changed his perspective from macro to micro. On a field trip with students, visiting a village next to the university campus, Yunus found working women unable to rise above subsistence level due to the high loan repayment rates they faced for purchasing the raw materials they needed to build furniture.

His first loan was pocket money - $27 to a group of 42 women - and his next loans were $100 and $200, amounts he borrowed from a local bank, with himself as the guarantor. Since then, Yunus, who established Grameen in 1983, has guided the bank's development and led banks and governments outside Bangladesh in applying microlending principles in their own countries and communities.

The movement he started has now spread throughout the world, and in 1997, Yunus led the world's first Micro Credit Summit in Washington, D.C.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 14, 2005 (download PDF).

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