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.

A 21st-century slave plantation

A woman picks tea at the Findlay Tea Plantation. There are acres upon acres of tea fields in Syhlet, a western district of Bangladesh. Each day thousands of women wake up at dawn and work until dusk picking tea. Their families have been living the same life for more than 200 years. Brought from Assam, India, to work the Bengali tea fields by the British, these workers make a "living" wage — .5 taka per kilogram of tea harvest. .5 taka is half a penny. Think about that for a second. I have purchased a kilogram of tea for $10 before. These women might work a fortnight and not make that amount of money. Willem Van Schendel in [...]

2012-07-05T20:51:01+00:00 July 5th, 2012|Rahfin in Bangladesh|

The Forgotten

Grameen Bank and other NGOs have lifted millions out of extreme poverty. But, it is important not to get caught up in all the awards and achievements. The bank offers a struggling member's loan to its borrowers. The loan is offered to beggars who usually rely on rice donations to get by day-to-day. In Bangladesh, as in many other nations, begging is seen as "a demeaning job." The struggling member's loan, which is void of any of the traditional rules and regulations the bank offers, gives beggars the opportunity to sell items — from fresh vegetables to ornamental jewelry — while they beg. This novel concept has lifted thousands out of the depths of extreme poverty. However, there [...]

2012-06-18T21:52:36+00:00 June 18th, 2012|Rahfin in Bangladesh|

Selected topics

When many people learn that I am at Grameen Bank for the summer, they ask simple questions like "What is the interest rate on a loan?" or "How many borrowers pay back the loans?" But, when they begin to learn more and more about the bank and about Bangladesh's society and economy, the questions become more complex. I have selected a few topics that I will shortly discuss. Most of the answers come from my five-day village visit. Eventual competition This question goes something like this: "If Grameen Bank continuously has more and more borrowers and if borrowers in a certain area all specialize in a certain business, won't they crowd out the marketplace eventually? What happens then?" [...]

2012-06-18T21:34:55+00:00 June 15th, 2012|Rahfin in Bangladesh|

A uniquely unique experience

We left for Nowga, a district in western Bangladesh, six days ago. It was the drive of my life. While Bangladesh has a fairly decent national highway system, no one follows any rules or regulations. Imagine a two lane highway that travels both ways. Now add trucks, buses, gas scooters, cars, vans and rickshaws to the equation. Someone in our group joked, "Armageddon or this journey?" But, all jokes aside, we arrived safely in Kiratpur, a region of Nowga, after a twelve-hour trip of traffic jams and crazed driving. My stay at the village reminded me of how good life is in the West. The electricity was routinely gone for more than twelve hours. There was [...]

2012-06-18T21:43:06+00:00 June 14th, 2012|Rahfin in Bangladesh|

Borrowing and barriers

I made a visit to a Grameen Bank branch office today around the district of Gazipur (not further than 30 to 40 kilometers from the capital city of Dhaka). I learned a few important things about the bank today that I think hold great lessons for Green Riba, my zero-interest microfinance initiative in West Dallas. Green Riba was in the planning stage for about three months, and I have learned that a business plan on paper is only that. While it feels great to have paired up with the award-winning non-profit PeopleFund and other business groups, I cannot wait to get started with the storefront aspect of the business. Green Riba's for-profit storefront will fully subsidize the zero-interest [...]

2012-06-07T21:52:34+00:00 June 7th, 2012|Rahfin in Bangladesh|

Not your everyday bank

How does microfinance work? How do women (the majority of Grameen Bank's borrowers) maintain successful loans? What type of loans does Grameen provide? Is Grameen more than just a financial institution? Grameen Bank has many rules and regulations when it comes to administering loans, and I encourage you all to read more about how Grameen Bank has been so successful, especially in terms of its payback rates. But, I would like to focus on Grameen Bank's loan offerings for one purpose: I want to differentiate Grameen Bank from other microfinance institutions. In recent years, microfinance has received a bad name. Microfinance banks have been portrayed as abusive, and said banks have been accused of usury. Grameen Bank, on [...]

2012-06-04T21:35:11+00:00 June 4th, 2012|Rahfin in Bangladesh|

More than just a vegetable

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, [...]

2012-06-04T21:23:25+00:00 June 4th, 2012|Rahfin in Bangladesh|

My goals, from West Dallas to Bangladesh

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, [...]

2012-05-25T13:56:17+00:00 May 25th, 2012|Rahfin in Bangladesh|