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Microcredit pioneer Yunus is MIT's 2008 Commencement speaker

Muhammad Yunus
Muhammad Yunus

Muhammad Yunus, winner of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, will deliver MIT's 2008 Commencement address on June 6.

Yunus won the Nobel Prize for pioneering the microlending movement, which seeks to improve the lives of the poor by offering credit without collateral. The bank he founded, Grameen Bank, has provided credit to 7.3 million poor people in villages in Bangladesh.

"Muhammad Yunus has given thousands of people struggling in poverty the tools to transform their lives. In the process he has proved vividly that economic empowerment is essential to promoting peace and human rights," said MIT President Susan Hockfield. "Like so many members of the MIT community itself, Dr. Yunus is a practical visionary. Our graduates will be inspired to hear how social entrepreneurship and technical expertise can, together, change the world. I can think of no better choice for our 2008 MIT Commencement speaker."

Yunus started making personal loans to poor basket weavers in Bangladesh in the mid-1970s, and in 1983 he founded Grameen Bank, which now operates in nearly 80,000 rural Bangladeshi villages. Ninety-seven percent of the bank's clients are women, and their rate of repayment is 98 percent.

In announcing his 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, the Nobel Committee wrote, "Muhammad Yunus has shown himself to be a leader who has managed to translate visions into practical action for the benefit of millions of people, not only in Bangladesh, but also in many other countries."

"I am thrilled with the selection of Dr. Muhammad Yunus as MIT's Commencement speaker," said Eric Grimson, head of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and chair of the Commencement Committee. "I believe his message that technical innovations can be used to impact the daily lives and future well-being of people around the world is one that will resonate strongly with our students. I hope that his speech challenges our graduates to seek opportunities to use their MIT education to make an impact on the lives of others."

Yunus received a Ph.D. in economics from Vanderbilt University in 1970 and taught at Middle Tennessee University from 1969 to 1972. After returning to Bangladesh, he joined the University of Chittagong as head of the Economics Department.

He also holds honorary doctorate degrees from dozens of universities around the world.

Phi Ho, president of the senior class, said Yunus is a perfect choice to address the graduates.

"Graduates of MIT are global leaders who will, no doubt, go on to catalyze and create impact across many industries. No one else embodies these ideals of global leadership and social commitment more than Dr. Yunus," said Ho.

Martin Holmes, president of the Undergraduate Association, agreed. "Dr. Yunus's development of microcredit has had a tremendous impact by elevating the world's poor--giving opportunity to those who need it most. His contributions to society perfectly align with MIT's core mission and values, and he, like the students of MIT, is a problem-solver who addresses the world's challenging issues with ingenious solutions," Holmes said.

Yunus has won dozens of international awards, including the Simon Bolivar Prize, the Indira Gandhi Peace Prize, the Seoul Peace Prize and the Freedom Award of the International Rescue Committee. He has also been appointed as an International Goodwill Ambassador for UNAIDS by the United Nations and inducted as a member of France's Legion d'Honneur.

From 1993 to 1995, Yunus was a member of the International Advisory Group for the Fourth World Conference on Women, a post to which he was appointed by the U.N. secretary general. He has served on the Global Commission of Women's Health, the Advisory Council for Sustainable Economic Development and the U.N. Expert Group on Women and Finance.

In addition to Grameen Bank, Yunus has created numerous other companies in Bangladesh to address poverty and development issues. Those companies are involved in a range of industries, including mobile telephony, Internet access, capital management and renewable energy.

Recent MIT Commencement speakers have included MIT President Emeritus Charles M. Vest, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, former U.S. Sen. George J. Mitchell and National Institutes of Health Director Elias Zerhouni.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 5, 2007 (download PDF).

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