Nobel winner Yunus promotes social business

AP News
Posted: Aug 13, 2011 3:31 AM
Nobel winner Yunus promotes social business

The bruising dispute with Bangladesh's government that saw Muhammad Yunus ousted as chief of the Grameen Bank has not diminished the Nobel laureate's enthusiasm for business projects to help the Asian nation's poor.

Cellphones, drinking water, yogurt for malnourished children and solar power for rural homes are all part of the dizzying network of Grameen initiatives. Yunus chairs the board of many of them despite being forced out as the bank's managing director in May.

Yunus was in Washington this week beating the drum for his concept of "social businesses" that aim to find commercially viable ways of tackling poverty.

He received a hero's welcome Friday at a conference of development specialists. On Thursday, he met Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. A State Department statement said they discussed the Grameen Bank and "the United States' interest in further success of Bangladesh's vibrant civil society ... which has lifted millions of people out of poverty."

Such praise is a far cry from the the bumpy ride he's had this year at home, where Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has accused Grameen Bank and other microfinance institutions of charging exorbitant interest and "sucking blood from the poor borrowers."

Still, Yunus, who obtained his economics doctorate in the United States then returned to Bangladesh after its bloody 1971 war for independence, has no plans to leave his homeland.

"Not a chance," he told The Associated Press.

In 1983, he founded the Grameen Bank, pioneering the idea of issuing small loans to the poor, which has been replicated around the world. The work earned him and the bank the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize. The bank now has about 9 million borrowers in Bangladesh, virtually all women.

But in March, the central bank removed the 71-year-old as Grameen's managing director for violating government retirement regulations, which he disputes. Despite expressions of concern from the United States and a group of elder international statesmen over Bangladesh's treatment of Yunus, he was left with no choice but to comply with the order after the nation's Supreme Court upheld it.

Yunus has long had frosty relations with Hasina. She was reportedly angered by Yunus' 2007 attempt to form his own political party, backed by the powerful army, when the country was under a state of emergency and Hasina herself was behind bars.

A Bangladesh government-appointed investigation in April found that Grameen Bank violated its charter as a microlender by creating affiliates that did not benefit the bank's shareholders, and recommended the government integrate those affiliates with the bank. Yunus maintains these social businesses are independent and should remain so.

Yunus on Friday steered clear of the bank controversy but acknowledged that his difficult relations with the government are an obstacle to the social businesses.