By Alan Jolis
Herald International Tribune Published with the New York Times and The Washington Post Singapore, Wednesday, February 19, 1997 PARIS – The success of microcredit in combating finally being recognized this month. Hillary Clinton opened the World Summit on Microcredit in Washington. The occasion highlighted the effectiveness of using tiny loans to help the most destitute people on earth pull themselves and their families out of poverty. But there is another, astonishing side of this story: the political consequences of putting capitalism to work for the have-nots. Microcredit not only liberates the poorest of the poor from hunger, it liberates them, and us, from fanatical extremists.
Microcredit was invented 20 years ago in Bangladesh by Muhammad Yunus. Today, Professor Yunus’s Grameen Bank and copycat organizations have 3.5 million women borrowers; adding their dependents, that amounts to about 20 percent of Bangladesh’s population. In the latest elections, held on June 12, 1996, these newly enfranchised flexed their muscle. The Islamic Society, the fundamentalist party antagonistic to the West that wants to keep women at home, lost 14 of its 17 seats in Parliament.
Immediately after the vote, Mr. Yunus began getting angry phone calls from people blaming him for the results. But Mr. Yunus assured them that fundamentalists had only themselves to blame. It was their supporters who burned down microcredit banks, attacked borrowers and condemned microcredit as un- Islamic because it helps women become self-employed. Continue reading