In the mid-1970s, Professor Muhammad Yunus launched microfinance movement, starting with just $27 out of his own pocket he loaned to 42 poor weavers and merchants in Bangladesh. Today, Grameen Bank has grown to nearly 8.4 million members—nearly 97 percent of whom are women—and has lent over $12.5 billion, allowing millions of women and their families the opportunity to lift themselves out of severe poverty. Furthermore, ownership and leadership of this great institution lies in the hands of its women borrowers as 97 percent of its shareholders and 9 of 13 members of the board of directors are women borrowers. Its groundbreaking model has now been replicated in almost all countries around the world and has influenced the work of Summit delegates here today and Campaign members around the world, becoming a highly regarded institution in its nearly 40 years of operation.
Since 2010, the government of Bangladesh has threatened to take control of the bank. This move would undermine Grameen Bank’s longtime success, disenfranchise the women who own a majority of the shares—and, by virtue of that, a majority of its board seats—and even the independence of civil society throughout the country and microfinance institutions around the world. At the 2013 Partnerships against Poverty Summit just held in Manila, Philippines, Microcredit Summit Campaign Director Larry Reed called on delegates to endorse the following declaration of support for the beleaguered institution.
As delegates of the Microcredit Summit Campaign’s 2013 Partnerships against Poverty Summit, we voice our support for the continued independence of Grameen Bank and continued enfranchisement of the women who are the Bank’s clients and owners. It is imperative that the Grameen Bank Ordinance not be changed any further and that recent amendments be rescinded. This includes ensuring that the borrowers retain control of the bank and that the existing election process of the Board of Directors continue. We will continue to track this issue closely and remain vigilant in our support of Grameen Bank’s independence.
As delegates of this Summit, we are working together to guarantee that microfinance remains a tool that can be used by people in poverty to improve their lives and provide a pathway out of poverty. The takeover of an institution so admired as Grameen Bank is threat to all of us. The independence and integrity of microfinance and all of our institutions must be protected. Thus, it is our duty to speak out in solidarity with the women borrowers of Grameen Bank who, through their hard work, investments, and ownership of this bank, have empowered themselves and transformed the lives of their families. This threat to Grameen Bank is a threat to the progress of the microfinance sector not only in Bangladesh, but around the world.
More than 800 delegates, representing 145 institutions and 71 countries from every continent save Antarctica were present for the reading of this declaration. All were credited for their work to end extreme poverty and create economic opportunity for people worldwide. The declaration was met with a standing ovation from delegates in a resound display of support and adoption of the statement by the 2013 Partnerships against Poverty Summit.