I will be spending a good portion of my summer interning at Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I hope I learn a good deal from my experiences. This blog will update every few days, and I hope you follow my journey at the world’s first and largest microfinance institution.
First, I wanted to give everyone an overview of Bangladesh:
Bangladesh is a beautiful land. Historically, it has been home to a wide diversity of religions and cultures. Its fertile lands have grown rice for centuries upon centuries. While Bangladesh’s history is rich, it is best to examine the condition of the Bengali people with the start of British rule. The British empire, in the zealous pursuit of lavish profits, designed what is now modern-day Bangladesh to deliver cash crops like jute, indigo and tea. The empire’s strict enforcement of administrative and legal policies under a harsh colonial network has crippled Bangladesh to this day. Dr. Willem Van Schendel of the University of Amsterdam concludes in his book A History of Bangladesh: “The colonial framework proved long-lived: despite turbulent state formation since British times, it remains clearly visible in Bangladesh’s judicial, educational, health, engineering and military institutions today.”
British agricultural policies encouraged a high fertility rate (more children meant more labor to work the fields). As such, the population has grown by a factor of 7 since 1820, and the population of Bangladesh is supposed to rise to almost 250 million people by 2050. Van Schendel further writes, “It is one of the most densely populated countries on earth … it has 1,064 persons per square kilometer compared to 48 for the world, 124 for Asia and 345 for India.” To add context to this quote, Bangladesh is slightly smaller than the state of Wisconsin.
Beyond its problematic colonial history and its population problem, Bangladesh is also victim to routine flooding, famines and natural disasters. The Famine of 1943 killed an estimated 3.5 million people. In 1970, the Bhola cyclone wiped out nearly 400,000 people; it was the deadliest cyclone in recorded history. A cyclone in 1991 killed at least 138,000 people and left more than 10 million people homeless.
This relatively new nation, established in 1971, has many obstacles to overcome (and I have only named some of the hurdles it faces). But, in my humble opinion, the greatest barrier to success that Bangladesh faces is extreme poverty. It is important to remember that poverty is a result of systemic neglect and failures by those who have power. Mother Teresa said, “Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat.”
And, that is where the story of Grameen Bank, a 2006 Nobel Laureate organization and the world’s largest (and most famous) microfinance organization, begins.
The founder of Grameen Bank, a Fulbright scholar, Dr. Muhammad Yunus, is a man I have grown to admire. I would encourage all of you to read his book, “The Poor Man’s Banker.” But, if you’re short on time, I would encourage you to read this short interview in Time.
After winning the Nobel Prize in 2006, Yunus said, “58% of the poor who borrowed from Grameen are now out of poverty. 2005 was declared the Year of Microcredit and there are over 100 million people now involved with microcredit (programs). At the rate we’re heading, we’ll halve total poverty by 2015. We’ll create a poverty museum in 2030.”
I have now read more than 40 papers and 10 books on microfinance. I believe that microcredit is a valuable tool in solving poverty. I have been inspired. And now, I’d like to provide you with the source of my inspiration:
I took a wonderful class with Dr. David Doyle (a professor of history and the director of the University Honors Program at SMU) called “The Dallas Experience.” The class studied the historical and political development of the city of Dallas and the status of the city today. I will be concise: The history of Dallas is not a pretty one. It is one filled with racist development, gentrification, classism and artificial monumentalism. And today, areas of Dallas still suffer from great neglect. One of the best (or depending on which perspective you take, worst) case studies for this neglect is West Dallas.
Here are some statistics on West Dallas provided by the West Dallas Community Collaborative for Schools, Jobs and Housing
- 67.1% of the adult population never completed high school.
- Per capita income is only $9,813.
- 60% of the population is uninsured.
- Only 2% of residents are four-year college graduates.
With the aid of a Maguire and Irby Family Public Service Internship and other sources, I have financed a trip to Bangladesh to learn about Grameen Bank and the beautiful people of my Bangladesh (I should disclose here that I am of Bengali heritage). It is my goal to grow closer to the people of Bangladesh and to learn everything I can about microfinance partially because I have established a microfinance initiative in West Dallas: Green Riba.
The help of great organizations like PeopleFund, the City of Dallas’ Office of Economic Development, the West Dallas Chamber of Commerce, the Rees-Jones Foundation and many other advisers and SMU students, along with an SMU Big iDeas grant, have allowed for the creation of Green Riba, a microfinance initiative that will give out zero-interest loans (we have developed an innovative model to stay in business without interest) to bright, creative West Dallas entrepreneurs. With only a few thousand dollars of support, it is amazing to see what entrepreneurs can do with their small businesses. It is my sincere hope that the oft-neglected people of West Dallas succeed with the right tools much like many Grameen Bank borrowers have.
If you’ve made it this far, I congratulate you. I’m glad you’re interested in Bangladesh, Grameen Bank and/or Green Riba. No other blog post will be nearly this long. Most blogs will be less detail-intensive and instead focus on what I learn about Grameen Bank and experience in Bangladesh (I will officially start my internship in about a week). I just wanted to give an overview of my aspirations and goals for my internship. And, I also wanted to take this opportunity to apologize to you in advance. I will make mistakes in my posts. I may say things that upset some of you.
But, most of all, I want this blog to be a forum for discourse. Don’t be afraid to email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and engage me in great discussion. I am a believer in learning and constructive rhetoric. I hope that this blog can offer some of both to each of you.