The Banker to the poor – what one man's vision and expectation can achieve.

I was at Duke University last week for my sisters graduation from the Fuqua School of Business (Congrats sis!!!) and Mohammed Yunus was the commencement speaker. A man who needs no introduction for his pioneering of the concept of Micro-Finance, Yunus is a Nobel Laureate and was also recently awarded the Congressional Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honour the US President can bestow.

Yunus recounted the story of the Grameen Bank and how he decided to create an institutional solution to deal with the problems of the super-poor by loaning them small amounts of money (under $100). These are the people that banks deemed to be “Not Credit – Worthy”, high-risk clients. Yunus however realised that they wanted to do well, to have a better life than society was allowing them to - on their terms and merit. He saw them as capable people with the ability to do well and repay the loans – people of integrity and courage with a strong desire to succeed.

He then proceeded to break all the rules of the Banking establishment (he did not know them so how was he to know he was even breaking them he asked?), lend money to the poorest of the poor, and lo and behold – a “fluke” happened – people paid back the loans! This fluke eventually became the norm and now the bank loans approximately 100 Million USD a day with a 97% return rate. All this in the face of a global banking collapse, a major recession and a loss of faith in the world financial system. Who is credit worthy now??

What struck me about this beautiful story is that Yunus saw people as whole, capable, willing and able to succeed – and they rose to meet his expectations of them. Other people and institutions saw them as parasites on the system, losers and incapable of anything – that was how they experienced these people by not giving them a chance. I remember reading an article about school boys in England and how they behave when on the football (soccer) pitch and the Cricket field. When playing football, apparently a large number of boys act like “yobs”, abusive, aggressive and unruly, even with the referees. The same boys when playing Cricket apparently are perfect gentlemen and play with decorum and listen tot he Umpire without a murmer. After all, behaving badly is “not Cricket” and will not be tolerated. Another study comes to mind, about an inner city US school where 2 teachers were sent to teach 2 classes, one an under-achieving class of unruly kids, one class of straight-A students. The twist in the tale is that the teacher who was teaching the A students was told they were under-achievers, the one teaching the under-achievers was told they were straight A students.

What do you think happened? Funnily enough, the formerly under-achieving class excelled in all ways and the formerly high-achievers grades plummetted! Again, the major factor appears to be the expectation of the teachers concerned.

So I’m led to believe people rise (or not) to meet our expectations of them – if we expect the best from them, the chances are they will likely live up to that expectation and prove us right. If we expect the worst from them , guess what, they will probably prove us right again!

Back to Yunus – I’m inspired by the fact that he treats every one as a whole, capable person and expects them to succeed – now that is vision.

Check out his speech on the Duke University website at:

Back in the UK tomorrow-yay!


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2 Responses to The Banker to the poor – what one man's vision and expectation can achieve.
  1. Subash Sadasivan
    May 24, 2010 | 8:51 am

    … the fact that he treats every one as a whole, capable person and expects them to succeed ………mmmm…great read !

    …sounds a bit like Prof Meredith Belbin as well, ” every human has a unique talent ” …read his EVOLUTION OF HUMAN BEHAVIOUR …not bad…

    …hey good to see you’re back on form !!


  2. Michelle O'Neil
    June 25, 2010 | 5:04 pm

    How beautiful!

    There is an organization which lends micro loans to families to enable them to help their children with autism receive medical care.

    It is

    I guess we have Mr. Yunus to thank for it!

    In addition, it feels soooo good to contribute. What’s five or ten bucks? Together it is a lot.

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