Washington, D.C. Today, Professor Muhammed Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank of Bangladesh and Grameen Foundation is honored by President Barack Obama with the Presidential Medal of Freedom alongside fifteen other individuals being honored for their work as “agents of change.”
Speaking at the National Press Club, Dr. Yunus, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, challenges the notion of hopeless poverty in his country, Bangladesh and now in the United States. Currently, Dr. Yunus is expanding into health care services in Bangladesh and offering financial services in the United States – striking in the epicenter of the financial world of New York.
When asked what inspires him, Professor Yunus said when he sees the smile on the face of a recipient who has succeeded and sees the next generation has succeed as well like a mother who received a loan many years ago and now has a son who is an engineer. He explains, “Poverty is not created by the person. It is created by the system.” Change happens when the system is changed.
Following the success of twenty-six years of micro lending, Grameen Healthcare is following the same principles. It will create another sustainable delivery system for health care for the poorest of the poor with an affordable price. He believes “in small heath centers to keep healthy people healthy.” One goal is to have early detection so as to provide early treatment. Another service is to bring basic simple health diagnostics to rural areas especially with new technology making it affordable and accessible – the Internet and the mobile phone.
Grameen America in the first year of operation is delivering low-interest, collateral-free loans in Queens, NY. It has now launched a second branch office in Omaha, Nebraska. With grant sizes as small as $2,200, most women are rebuilding their lives, generating an income and stabilizing their finances. Instead of generations on welfare, Profossor Yunus said a new view must be created. He remarked that how different the results would be if instead of deducting money earned by a welfare recipient that instead the dollar would be matched. He said, “If for $1 earned the person would receive a matching $1, there would be an incentive to go earn $2.” Countless cities in the U.S. are requesting branch offices including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Baltimore and Durham.
Dr. Yunus challenged the notion that nothing can be done to eradicate poverty. He said his goal is that “in 2030 no one will be poor in Bangladesh.”
By Keri Douglas, writer/photographer, Washington, DC
More at KeriDouglas.wordpress.com
Read in Ode magazine.
2009 Recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom:
Dr. Yunus joins leaders from around the world at the White House tonight to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest American civilian award. Leaders include:
Nancy Goodman Brinker, founder of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure; Dr. Pedro José Greer, provider of healthcare of thousands of homeless patients in Miami; Stephen Hawking, theoretical physicist; Jack Kemp, former U.S. Congressman and champion for new solutions to address poverty and the working class; Senator Edward Kennedy, US. Senator and leader for improving public education and equal opportunities for everyone; Billie Jean King, professional tennis player and advocate for gender equality; Rev. Joseph Lowery, civil rights leader; Joe Medicine Crow – High Bird, last living Plains Indian war chief; Harvey Milk, first openly gay elected official; Sandra Day O’Connor, first woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court; Sidney Poitier, ground breaking actor; Chita Rivera, ground breaking actress; Mary Robinson, first woman president of Ireland; Dr. Janet Davison Rowley, geneticist; Desmond Tutu, anti-apartheid activist in South Africa.