The Provider: Helping People Lift Themselves Up

Muhammad Yunus may not think of himself as engaged in conflict prevention, but he is a champion Provider. In 1976, as a young economics professor in the famine-stricken nation of Bangladesh, he met a village woman making a bamboo chair. He asked her how much profit she earned and was astonished to learn that it was only two pennies a day. “Why?” he asked. She explained that she had no bamboo of her own and had to buy it from a trader, who required in return that she sell him the finished chair at the low price he set. Yunus asked how much she needed to be able to buy her own bamboo. “Thirty cents,” she said. He loaned her the money and, several weeks later, returned to discover that she had become an entrepreneur with co-workers producing an entire line of chairs.

This experience led Yunus to found the Grameen Bank, which, since its founding in 1983, has provided credit, not aid, to more than two million poor people, mostly women, in tens of thousands of villages. The poor were not “credit-worthy,” skeptics argued; the loans would never be paid back. The borrowers of the Grameen Bank have proved the skeptics wrong; they have turned out to be far better credit risks than the rich, paying back on average ninety-seven percent of their loans.

Now there are Grameen-like banks in over sixty countries, including the United States, enabling the poor to meet their needs with small loans.

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