Social Justice

Muhammad Yunus :: Alleviating Poverty

Muhammad Yunus Portrait I got the opportunity to attend the inaugural Magnus Magnusson lecture on Monday, at Glasgow Caledonian university, which was given by Professor Muhammad Yunus.

Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank and dubbed “Banker to the Poor”, is recognised as one of the world’s greatest social entrepreneurs. He was awarded a Nobel Peace prize in 2006 for his efforts to create a world free of poverty by developing the concept of micro-credit, which supports entrepreneurs who are too poor to qualify for traditional bank loans. By providing small loans on suitable terms Yunus and Grameen Bank have shown that with the right support even the poorest of the poor can work to bring about their own social and economic advancement.

His lecture on Monday was titled “Alleviating Poverty: Microcredit & Social Business”. I made a minimal amount of notes, but here they are all the same…

“Peel off the layers of fear…”
Grameen Bank works with 97% women.
Looked at how conventional banks did it, then did the exact opposite.
Poverty is created by the systems that we built.
Bonsai tree example – stays small because it’s planted in a pot, fills the space its given to grow in.
Charity money has only one life – investing in social business has many lives.
Poverty belongs in the museums.

The time is now.
The greatest crisis is the greatest opportunity.
Integrated crises – we can’t ignore the current food crisis just because it isn’t affecting us while the financial crisis is.

8 thoughts on “Muhammad Yunus :: Alleviating Poverty

  1. Dear Editor,

    I found your post about Muhammad Yunus’ lecture on helping the poor to be full of insight. His work on behalf of the disenfranchised is admirable as well as inspiring and his message is one of hope and charity. While I am not trying to take anything away from Yunus’ words I would like to add that it would be beneficial to remember the words of other great men on the same subject of poverty. Therefore I would like to call forward the teachings of St. John Chrysostom, a great man from the fourth century Byzantine Empire, whose voice sorely needs to be heard today.

    Chrysostom’s attitude towards the poor, in contrast to our own attitudes today, stand in stark contrast with one another. Today it seems that our default attitude toward the disenfranchised is one of neglect. I propose that we rationalize our beliefs by telling ourselves that if they were only good people or were less lazy then they would be able to get jobs and participate in society. That way, they would stop making us feel so uncomfortable when we walked past them on our way to Starbucks or the beach.

    This view would have been foreign to Chrysostom since he saw all poor people as opportunites to do good, i.e., give alms and alleviate suffering. As a devout Christian, he saw almsgiving and charity as one of the basic tenants of normal Christianity, and would even go so far as to say that not sharing one’s wealth is akin to “theft from the poor and deprivation of their means of life; we do not possess our own wealth, but theirs.”

    The purpose of obtaining a right and proper attitude towards the poor is to induce action. Our belifs about the world around us influence how we act. Therefore, Chrysostom sought to provide his listeners with proper beliefs that would act as an impetus for proper action. He told this story:

    “Let us sppose two tables, and let one be filled with those, and have the blind, the halt, the maimed in hand or leg, the barefoot, those worn out: but let the other have grandness, generals, governors, great officers, arrayed in costly robes and fine linen. Again, here atht table of the poor let there be neither silver, nor store of wine, but drinking cups…but at the table of the rich, let all the vessels be of silver and gold, and the wine jars lie in order, glittering far beyond the silver and gold. Have I said enough? Let us see at which ye will seat yourselves. For I for my part am going to that of the blind, and the lame, but probably the more part of you will choose the other, that of the generals that is so gay and splendid. This table of mine hath superiority. Wherefore? Because this one hath Christ sitting down at it.”

    As we can see from the story he told, Chrysostom advocated seeing the face of God in the face of the poor. Now, it does not take belief in God to help the poor, nor is faith in jesus Christ a requirement for alleviating poverty. But there is still an important message in Chrysostom’s story. We are to see the poor not as having less value or importance – but as being on equal ground with all of us, since we all share in the image of God and all take up space on this Earth. I believe that if we were to acquire such a view of the poor and the disenfranchised, we would be able to diminish copious amounts of human suffering and not only that, but also feel the warmth and goodness that follows closely behind virtually any form of charity or almsgiving. This is why Chrysostom’s voice is needed alongside great men like Muhammad Yunus.

  2. very interesting.i think microcredit is a tool that could be tremendously useful if more everyday people were involved

    i like the quote about doing the exact opposite of the establishment

  3. @ Matthew: Thanks for your comment. I agree that we must listen to the other voices who spoke out on behalf of the poor and the marginalised, and in fact if you take a browse back through some of my other posts you will find many about social justice, about faith, and about their interlinking. I could name a great list of people who have inspired and challenged me, from Dorothy Day to St Francis of Assisi and many others.

    Shane Claiborne is one contemporary voice who has had a strong impact on me. In his book The Irresistible Revolution he makes a comment that the problem is not that we (referring specifically to the church, but applies in a wider context too) do not care about the poor, but that we do not know the poor. That challenged me to my core, and caused me to rethink how I viewed the folks I pass on the streets.

    When Chrysostom talks about stealing from the poor, it reminds me of Jesus words in the Gospels, that if a man has two coats then one of them belongs to the poor. Again, I wrestle and I struggle and I fail with these messages constantly, but they are working in me to cause me to move towards generosity and grace and love more each day… You are right to say that the goal should always be action. Awareness means nothing if there is not also action. Perhaps that is one of our greatest failings in this modern technological age – that we have instant access to more information than we could ever need, at our fingertips, and yet we do nothing. A conscience soothing placebo, awareness without action.

    Thanks for bringing that up – I agree with you!

  4. ” Charity money has only one life… ” Confirms thoughts that I’ve had for a long time! Sounds really interesting, we must chat about this tonight when you come over for soup (it is difficult to converse on these topics while spreading nutella on mini pancakes, you’ll agree).
    love love

  5. @ neal: i’ll try! i normally try to post it up on the blog before something interesting happens, but I know it’s fallen off the radar a little recently!

    @ rose: glad you enjoyed!

    @ fran: we shall converse indeed. and, i’m willing to try talking about it over pancakes again if you’d like…!

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