In 2003, Grameen
Bank embarked on a new program, exclusively targeted for the
poorest of the poor and the most helpless in Bangladesh - the
beggars. Begging is a profession chosen by many poor people
in Bangladesh, usually as a result of river erosion, divorce,
death of the husband, unemployment and disability. Very often
this becomes a lifetime occupation for many. Struggling (Beggars)
Members Program, as the program is formally called, is a bold
new initiative taken by Grameen Bank to confront a sustained
campaign that microcredit is of no use to the people belonging
to the lowest rung of poverty and to reinforce the Bank’s
campaign that credit should be accepted as a human right.
key features of this program are very unique and bypass the rules
and regulations that apply to the regular Grameen Bank members.
The struggling members are not required to form any group. They,
however, may be affiliated with a regular group. They are not
obliged to attend any weekly meetings either. The regular group
members, who act as role models for the struggling members, provide
guidance and support to their less fortunate peers. The bank treats
its struggling members with the same respect and attention that
is provided to its regular members and also refrains from using
the term ‘beggar’ as the term is socially demeaning.
typical loan to a beggar amounts to Tk. 500 (US$ 9.0) and is not
only collateral free, but there is no interest charged on it.
The repayment schedule is flexible, decided by the struggling
member. The instalments are to be paid at the member’s convenience
and according to her earning capabilities. There is no
stipulation that the instalments should be paid at a regular interval
such as, a week, and the bank stresses that the instalment should
not be paid from any money earned from begging.
with the initial loans, the struggling members are given identity
badges with the bank’s logo as physical evidence of the
bank’s complete support behind them. In some cases, Grameen
Bank makes necessary arrangements with local shops to give the
members a credit line upto a given amount to pick-up whatever
items they choose to take out to sell in the village. The bank
provides guarantee to the concerned shops that it will make payments
in case of defaults. The struggling members sell light items such
as bread, candy, pickles, toys, betel-leaf, matches etc, in order
to supplement their begging.
rule for compulsory savings does not apply to the struggling members.
But they are free to make savings deposits as and when they wish.
Struggling members are automatically covered by the loan insurance
scheme under which their loans will be fully repaid by Grameen
Bank in case of death. In addition, Tk. 500 will be provided from
the bank’s Emergency Fund to the bereaved family for meeting
the further support struggling members, the bank provides the
members with blankets, woollen shawls, mosquito nets and umbrellas
on credit to be repaid as interest free loans. Although there
is no compulsion for the struggling members to give up begging,
there are many cases when they actually give up begging and move
on to become regular business person.
Rani returns home after a busy day selling her wares
Rani is one such member who gave up begging as a result of Grameen's
program. Promeela passed her early life comfortably with her husband
and three children. Her husband left her, however, and her financial
situation took a downward turn. Her sons too moved out and started
their own families leaving her with the burden of having to pay
a large dowry for her daughter's marriage. She started working
as a maid in various homes but old age soon prevented her from
working and she had to resort to begging. One day, when he saw
her begging, the manager of Grameen Bank's Bhaluka branch in Mymensingh,
approached her to become a candidate of the Struggling Member
Program. She was given a loan of Tk 500 and the manager made arrangements
with a local shop to provide her with light goods such as biscuits,
candies and other items to sell. With the profits she made, Promeela
managed to make repayments of Tk 20 per week and soon she quit
begging. She took two subsequent loans to add variety to her business.
All throughout her transition, the GB branch manager helped to
keep track of her business as well as her health and personal
well being. Promeela has already paid off her first loan.
receives items for sale on credit from a local store
July 2004, 69 struggling members have made this giant leap out
of begging and into regular membership of Grameen Bank.
Struggling Members Program is targeted primarily at women, but
also has male members. “I do not beg any more; I sell things;
I earn money by selling goods”, proclaimed a proud Mohammad
Mokhlesur, member of Grameen Bank’s Charruhita Lakshmipur
branch Struggling Members, Program who lost his sight when he
was very young. Like thousands of Bangladeshis, his poverty along
with his handicap compelled him to choose begging as a profession.
His luck changed as a Grameen branch manager approached him to
join Grameen Bank’s new program for the ultra poor. The
Bank manager helps him to buy goods to sell. These are mostly
food items such as pickles, candies and toys. He buys these articles
on credit with a guarantee backed by Grameen Bank. Mokhlesur now
sells his goods in the surrounding villages and with the profit
he makes from his micro business, he not only manages to pay back
his loan instalments, but has also bought a saree for his wife
and paid for their medical treatment. Mokhlesur’s children
attend the local school, a privilege that he himself did not have
and he now dreams of buying a wheel-cart from which he can carry
on his business. Mokhlesur is not looked down upon anymore. He
now senses dignity and respect.
of July 2004, Tk. 7.19 million has been disbursed to 14,500 struggling
members, of which Tk. 1.91 million has been repaid. Grameen Bank
expects the number of struggling members taking part in this program
to exceed 25,000 by the end of 2004. One of Grameen Bank’s
future initiatives with the struggling members will be to extend
telephone loans to them to start village phone business, to speed
up their move out of poverty.
Prepared by Lamiya Morshed, Zain Bari and Rahima Khatun