March 26, 1996
Muhammad Yunus is a financial pioneer who has turned upside down the way banks look at their customers. He is the founder of the Grameen Bank in his native Bangladesh and the architect of the micro-lending revolution that is changing lives in places as far from Yunus’s home as inner-city Chicago.
In Give Us Credit, Alex Counts follows the lives of Grameen borrowers in Bangladesh and would-be entrepreneurs in Chicago’s Englewood neighbourhood, where the Full Circle Fund, a scheme based on the Grameen concept, operates. The borrowers are all women, all working against great odds to become economically independent. Their stories are dramatic and powerful: the women in Bangladesh battle against the monsoon, disease, and the prejudices of their menfolk, while in Englewood, the crime and decay of the inner-city ensure that each day is a struggle to survive and to make ends meet.
Counts tells how Yunus came upon his idea twenty years ago, after lending a few dollars’ worth of cash from his own pocket to indentured laborers and poor farmers in his famine-ravaged and economically crippled homeland. The borrowers were able to start their own small businesses – buying a dairy cow or a rickshaw or tools to make fishing nets or stools – enabling them to accumulate a little cash to build a house, educate a child, or fend off starvation. Yunus institutionalized his idea into the Grameen Bank, and in spite of the fact that the bank’s borrowers are required to be the poorest of the poor, without assets for collateral, Grameen has a near-perfect repayment rate. In Bangladesh, Grameen now disperses $500 million a year to 2 million borrowers; the idea has also spread to the United States and throughout the world. Perhaps 10 million people now benefit from small, unsecured loans that have financed the transformation of their lives. As Alex Counts demonstrates, micro-lending could make a significant contribution to more effective foreign-aid policies toward impoverished countries like Bangladesh, and to the domestic alleviation of poverty at a time when the federal government is cutting its spending at all levels.
Muhammad Yunus has said that “access to credit should be a human right irrespective of economic situation.” Give Us Credit is the inspiring story of the genesis of this idea and of its realization, and shows how Yunus’s belief has made an impact on the lives of women from two very different cultures who share a desire to transform their own lives.
Alex Counts, a former Fulbright scholar in Bangladesh, has worked for nonprofit organizations, including RESULTS and CARE, since graduating from Cornell University in 1988. A native of New York City, he now lives in Dhaka with his wife, Emily. This is his first book.