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Nobel Peace Prize laureate wins plaudits for microfinance work from senior UN officials

Nobel Peace Prize laureate wins plaudits for microfinance work from senior UN officials

The work of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize laureate, the microfinance banker and economist Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh, offers rich and poor people one of the most simple and yet powerful ideas for development, the United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown said today.

Speaking at UN Headquarters in New York during a tribute to Professor Yunus, who founded the Grameen Bank, Mr. Malloch Brown hailed the Bangladeshi as a banker, advocate, activist and champion for the poor. “You have done wonderful things for development and by doing that you have done wonderful things for peace,” he told the laureate.

The Grameen Bank is a pioneer of the microfinance movement, which offers loans to some of the world’s poorest people, particularly women, who would otherwise have no access to such funds. The bank has become renowned for extraordinarily high rates of repayment from its customers.

Mr. Malloch Brown said microfinance has become synonymous with Professor Yunus and “therefore it’s absolutely right that you have been singled out” for the Nobel Prize.

“It has given and energy and hope and connected development, not just for the poor who are its beneficiaries, but to many people in the rich world, for whom this is the most understandable, relatable-to idea they’ve ever heard in development,” the UN deputy chief said. “Give somebody a loan, and let them get on their own feet. It’s a very, very powerful idea that you have championed.”

Professor Yunus said he started the Grameen Bank because conventional banking opportunities were not available to as much as a third of the world’s population.

“We wanted to open the floodgates so that everybody can be brought in, everybody can be rich,” he said, adding that his bank had many sceptics when it set ambitious early targets for the number of people it hoped to reach.

The microcredit movement has now reached at least 100 million families around the world, he said.

Professor Yunus also praised the UN for making 2005 the International Year of Microcredit and thereby drawing global attention to the concept.

General Assembly President Sheikha Haya Al Khalifa also praised “the vision, creativity and determination” of Professor Yunus for helping to lift hundreds of thousands of people, especially women, out of poverty.

She noted that the Grameen Bank has disbursed over $5 billion in micro-credit loans to 7 million borrowers, 97 percent of whom are women, thus making “a tremendous contribution towards ending poverty in Bangladesh.”

Examples such as the Grameen Bank demonstrate that, given a chance, the poor can best empower themselves, she said. “We must never underestimate their talent and creativity to develop everyday strategies to survive.”

In receiving the Nobel Prize for Peace, “Professor Yunus and the Grameen Bank have also reminded us of the close links between peace and development,” she added, cautioning that “Unless we can eradicate poverty, international efforts towards a more peaceful world will be frustrated.”

The challenge ahead is “to build on innovative approaches such as Grameen, so that we can help the poor to help themselves,” she stressed.