Rahfin in Bangladesh

Rahfin is a sophomore President’s Scholar and member of the University Honors Program who is majoring in economics, political science and public policy in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, with minors in religious studies and Arabic. He was named an SMU Maguire and Irby Family Public Service Intern for summer 2012. He is interning at Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, a Nobel Laureate organization that has pioneered microfinance for the poor. He plans to work on the administrative and financial side of microfinance and also visit rural banks in an effort to understand microfinance from a grassroots level.

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More than just a vegetable

Beef is a luxury good in Bangladesh.

Grameen Bank targets those who live in extreme poverty. Muhammad Yunus writes in his book Banker to the Poor: “They have no control over capital, and it is the ability to control capital that gives people the power to rise out of poverty.” The bank targets those who are landless and assetless. It makes a clear delineation between the poor and the extreme poor — the latter have almost no form of agency.

It is often hard to visualize what poverty looks like in a third-world nation. Grameen Bank prides itself on alleviating poverty, but many foreigners state, “These people still have a low standard of living.” For the bank, access to education, clean drinking water, sanitary latrines, sustainable agriculture and a varied diet are no easy feats.

A rich variety of vegetables at the open bazaar.

Ratan K. Nag, who has worked at the bank for 29 years, said at my first day at the bank, “When I first went to the villages, there was nothing. There was feces everywhere I looked. But, slowly the bank has made great improvements in Bangladesh.”

A great way to visualize what it means to come out of extreme poverty is to look at the foods those who cross a poverty threshold can afford. To do so, I visited a open bazaar in one of Dhaka’s neighborhoods. Those in extreme poverty cannot afford anything but rice and very menial (and cheap) foods. However, those who have crossed a poverty threshold can afford a diverse diet: green vegetables, fruits and fish (meat, especially beef, still remains a luxury for the upper economic classes in Bangladesh). Access to food is a great indicator of a person’s quality of life. I would encourage you all to glance over Foreign Policy’s food edition.

A fish vendor cuts hilsha (one of the most expensive fish in Bangladesh).

Next up on the agenda? A discussion of Grameen Bank’s loan structures and my first impressions from my first few days at work.

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