Thursday, March 3, 2011

What is Grameen if there's no Yunus?

A former colleague in Bangladesh posted a link on facebook to a BBC article on the attempted sacking of Muhammad Yunus from the Grameen Bank. Numerous reasons for this were given, one of which being that he is over the compulsory retirement age of 60. You might have noticed in my twitter feed that I pointed out the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, is herself 63. Now it's not the PM who is calling for Yunus to be sacked, it's the central bank. However Hasina is no fan of Yunus, after he publicly considered establishing a rival political party in 2007.

On pondering the potential dismisal of Yunus, I began to wonder what Grameen will be without him as a figurehead, and with the knowledge I have (which is based solely on my own experiences in Bangladesh), I believe that nothing will change. There is no denying that Yunus changed the world with a simple idea and I've discussed in the past the goliath that Grameen has become,in a side bar of the BBC article that, "supporters of Prof Yunus warn that savers and borrowers might get the wrong idea - and that some people might withdraw their savings from the bank." Rumours travel much faster than accurate news (and I'm sure many people would say "accurate news" in Bangladesh is an oxymoron) particularly in rural Bangladesh, and with many of the beneficaries of Grameen loans classed as 'rural poor' and therefore somewhat distanced from the media, the possibility of the scenario above definitely exists.

To illustrate: I was in Bangladesh at the time when avian flu was making the news. Colleagues of mine came across a number of villages that had destroyed all of their livestock because they had heard that avian flu would kill the birds and the people. What they hadn't heard was that it was not a risk in their particular region and that there was no need to cull their poultry. Misinformation and rumours caused them to lose their livelihoods. So to bring this back to Yunus being sacked, there could easily be a flow of incorrect information about the impacts of this, causing people to remove their money, or stop repayments if they believe that Yunus is synomous with the Bank - i.e. If Yunus is finished, Grameen is finished.

But in reality, in 10, 20 or 50 years time, long after Yunus is gone, the Grameen Bank will remain. Even with 25% of the Bank owned by the Government, with Bangladesh's history of political turnover I'd happily wager that Grameen will outlast any political party. When you think about it, Grameen became an independent bank in 1983, which is only 12 years after Bangladesh became independent, and it has been a much more stable institution than the political system. If at 70 years of age Yunus is still capable of running Grameen, then he should continue to do so, and consider how to ensure that when the time does come for him to leave that this is communicated properly.


  1. agreed. frustrating to see a country we love constantly standing in its own way.

    hope you're well, c-sheezy.

  2. Good to hear from you Pierre!! I don't remember if I passed on my congratulations on your big news, so congratulations indeed!