In his book, “The Heart of America: Ten Core Values That Make Our Country Great”, Bill Halamandaris listed ten core values that built America. Ten values with proven ability to build a world superpower:
Compassion Opportunity Responsibility Equality
Valour Ambition Liberty Unity Enterprise Spirituality
In this case study of the value Ambition, we look at an individual who provides an excellent example of what it means and what it does for a nation.
Muhammad Yunus, known as the “Banker to the Poor”, was born 28th June, 1940 in Chittagong in the south- eastern region of Bangladesh. His education started in his village primary school and continued at Lamabazar Primary School and Chittagong Collegiate School after which he studied at Chittagong College and in 1957, he entered Dhaka University where he got his first degree in 1960 and masters in 1961, both in economics. In 1969, he obtained his PhD in the same discipline from the Vanderbilt University in the United States of America.
Yunus began as a lecturer at the Chittagong College and went on to lecture at the Middle Tennessee State University in the US. After the liberation war of Bangladesh, Yunus returned home in 1972 and worked briefly for the government planning commission but returned to the teaching profession where he became the Head of the Economics Department at the Chittagong University. By 1975, Yunus was a Professor of Economics at the same university.
Yunus’ Ambition – Poverty Alleviation
Yunus’ reaction to the devastating famine that hit Bangladesh in 1974 produced programmes that, many years after, have improved the quality of life of the people, many of whom would probably not be alive today but for the programmes. According to Yunus, poverty in Bangladesh decreased by 1% per year till 2000 and by 2% till 2005 (statistics beyond 2005 are not yet available). He believes that where this rate is sustained, poverty level could decrease by 50% by 2015 and possibly be eradicated by 2030.
We cannot fault his enthusiasm especially when you consider that Bangladesh is one of the poorest countries in the world and any reversal of the poverty trend will be greatly appreciated, particularly in an era where rich nations are seeing an increase in their poverty level.
Let’s look at how he pursued his ambition to eliminate poverty:
Microcredit Schemes: He started by providing loans from his own pocket to women who produced bamboo furniture and with the success of this scheme on a small scale, he persuaded the government-owned Janata Bank to provide the microcredit schemes. With the support of Janata Bank, Yunus was able to significantly increase the number of beneficiaries of the microcredit. By 1982, the scheme had over 28,000 members. This success led to him establishing Grameen Bank in 1983.
It is important to note that beneficiaries of this scheme were people with no money, no collateral, the poorest of the society with no evidence of their ability to pay back the loans. But Yunus believed that these impoverished people had skills and abilities that were under-utilized and only the availability of funds would result in the expression of such skills and abilities and improve their standard of living.
Since the inception of the Microcredit scheme, over $8 billion microcredit has been made available and today, it is making a difference in the lives of nearly 8 million of its beneficiaries, over 40 million when you include family members, in Bangladesh and millions more in other countries (including developed nations) who have replicated this model. The microcredit scheme from Grameen Bank impacts upon the lives of nearly a third of the Bangladesh population, directly or indirectly, becoming one of the key vehicles for building that nation.
Women Empowerment: Yunus is a firm believer that women are the most critical tool for poverty alleviation when empowered, especially since he believed women are better money managers, are more responsible and accountable when given loans and more industrious.
He therefore set out to make women the core target of his microcredit schemes. Today, about 94% of the Grameen Bank schemes’ beneficiaries are women, with an almost 99% loan repayment rate despite most of these women joining the scheme as beggars, destitute, illiterates, divorcees, widows, etc.
This economic empowerment gave the women income to educate their children, expand their trade, open savings accounts for their children’s training and future security, and feed the family (including their husbands). In addition, these women now have a sense of worth to create communities where they support one another to utilize their skills and abilities. Many of these women have improved the standard of living of their families and there are studies that indicate that the success these women achieve has led to respect from their husbands, respect from men generally, reduced divorce and birth rates in the community. This illustrates the multiple effects of women empowerment as a means for poverty alleviation.
Social Business Enterprise: Yunus saw the poor as bankable, which is a radical change from normal banking approach. He viewed banking as a social business and as a result, Grameen Bank became a full-fledged bank, in 1983, to provide loans to poor Bangladeshis with no collateral. His bank model operates with corporate efficiency and focuses on social efforts by pumping profits back into its social objectives.
Today, Grameen Bank has over 2,500 branches in Bangladesh covering three quarters of the rural areas of the country. Independent studies by the World Bank and others indicate that within five years, about half Grameen’s borrowers manage to pull themselves out of poverty, while a further quarter hover near the poverty line.
To expand the vision to alleviate poverty, the Grameen Group is involved in several profit and non-profit social business ventures which includes Grameen Danone (a partnership with Danone established to address the problem of malnutrition of millions of children in Bangladesh), Grameen Veolia (a partnership with Veolia Water to address water problems), BASF Grameen (a partnership with BASF to produce chemically treated mosquito-nets to curb malaria), Grameen Intel (to bring affordable information technology solutions to rural villages), Grameen America (to help poor American women come out of poverty through micro-credit schemes) and many other initiatives.
What can we learn about Ambition from life of this great man?
Ambition expressed his compassion and responsibility: Moved with compassion by the plight of the poor in Bangladesh and across the globe, Yunus accepted responsibility to do something to address the problem. He does not deny the role of government but his ambition is big enough to help millions of people come out of poverty.
Ambition inspired enterprise: Yunus’ ambition gave birth to various innovative approaches that we now call Social Enterprise. He later set up the Yunus Centre Social Business Design Lab to help infuse the ambition of many others with a unique spirit of enterprise.
Ambition creates total commitment: Since 1974 when a serious famine in Bangladesh compelled him to act, Yunus has been totally committed to the vision of alleviating poverty. This has earned him numerous awards globally and that includes the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, jointly with Grameen Bank. As expected, he used his share of the $1.4 million award money to create a company to make low-cost, high-nutrition food and also to set up an eye hospital for the poor.
Ambition led to national transformation: Through one man’s ambition, nations across the globe are witnessing national transformation. Today, more than 250 institutions in nearly 100 countries operate microcredit programmes and social business initiatives based on the Grameen Group model, while thousands of other microcredit programmes have emulated, adapted or been inspired by the Grameen Group. According to an expert on innovative government, the programmes established by Yunus at the Grameen Bank are “the single most important development in the third world in the last 100 years, and I don’t think any two people will disagree.”
I don’t believe Muhammad Yunus would have had such an ambition and global impact if he wasn’t confronted with such a poverty crisis in Bangladesh. This means, great ambitions are birthed at the place of great crisis.
With Nigeria being in a deep crisis, the question for you is, ‘What ambition do you have for Nigeria?