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Some Reflections on The Nobel Peace Prize

Excerpt of the Lecture Delivered by Professor Ole Danbolt Mjøs
At the Bangladesh China Friendship Conference Center for Bangladeshi Students

Professor Yunus and Professor Ole Danbolt Mjøs greets the students

Thanks for inviting us to come to Bangladesh in connection with the opening of the Nobel Peace Prize Exhibition about Muhammad and Grameen Bank. ... It is a great honour for Bente Erichsen, Director of the Nobel Peace Center and myself as Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee to be invited to your country. Thank you!
According to the Will of Alfred Nobel the Nobel Peace Prize should be awarded "to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies, and for holding and promoting peace congresses." And "the champions of peace shall be awarded by a committee of five persons to be elected by the Norwegian Storting (Parliament). It is my express wish that awarding (the Nobel Prizes) no consideration whatever shall be given to the nationality of the candidates, but that the most worthy shall receive the prize, whether he be a Scandinavian or not." So indeed, the Nobel Prizes are truly international prizes!
The Norwegian Nobel Committee does not define peace directly, but of course we define it indirectly.

The Nobel Peace Prize has also developed over time. It used to be a prize almost exclusively for North Americans and Europeans. It took much too long for the prize to be truly global. The first non-American, non-European who received the prize was the Foreign Minister of Argentina, Lamas, in 1936.

... Let us continue to celebrate the Nobel Peace Prize laureates Muhammad and Grameen Bank. ... The many who did know of both held that they ought to have received the Peace Prize long ago.

This year's award has been well received, internationally, in Norway, and not least in Bangladesh. It almost defies comprehension that when, as chairman of the Nobel Committee, I walk up to a microphone at the Nobel Institute in Oslo and announce that this year's Peace Prize is going to Yunus and Grameen Bank, politicians and papers in large parts of the world begin to comment on, and to a large extent to applaud, the Norwegian Nobel Committee's choice. And what is even harder to believe: there is an outbreak of joyful demonstrations in Bangladesh. For several days one could almost have described the country as closed because of happiness. Many said that this was the greatest thing to have happened to the country since independence in 1971.

By means of this year's Peace Prize award, the Norwegian Nobel Committee wishes to focus attention on dialogue with the Muslim world, on the women's perspective, and on the fight against poverty.

First, we hope that this Peace Prize will represent a possible approach to the Muslim part of the world. Since the 11th of September 2001, we have seen a widespread tendency to demonize Islam. It is an important task for the Nobel Committee to try to narrow the gap between the West and Islam. The Peace Prize to Yunus and Grameen Bank is also support for the Muslim country Bangladesh and for the Muslim environments in the world that are working for dialogue and collaboration. All too often we speak one-sidedly about how much the Muslim part of the world has to learn from the West. Where microcredit is concerned, the opposite is true: the West has learned from Yunus, from Bangladesh, and from the Muslim part of the world.

Secondly, this year's Peace Prize places women centre-stage. Over 95 per cent of the borrowers are women, and their liberation is a major concern for Yunus and Grameen Bank. The emphasis on women may have been the most important factor in the success of their work. Women were not alone to begin with, but their proportion rose rapidly. In Yunus's words, "For women to be granted the loan has a definite effect on the family. There is no need to do more research on that today. Children benefit automatically, with better clothes and food. We can see the situation changing".

Men often spend the money on themselves; women spend it on the family. The bank's practice has meant a social revolution in Bangladesh. One of the borrowers, Mazeda Begum, has put it like this: "My parents gave me the birth, but Grameen Bank gave me a life". In today's terminology, microcredit is indeed "female empowerment".

Thirdly, and most importantly, we have the fight against poverty and for social and economic development. Muhammad has shown himself to be a leader who has managed to turn visions into practical action for the benefit of millions of people, not only in Bangladesh but also in many other countries. There are now micro-credit programs in nearly one hundred countries all over the world, including Norway. Loans to poor people, most often women, without any financial security had appeared to be an impossible idea. From modest beginnings three decades ago, Yunus has, first and foremost through Grameen Bank, developed microcredit into an ever more important instrument in the struggle against poverty. Grameen Bank has been a source of ideas and models for the many institutions in the field of microcredit that have sprung up around the world.

Across cultures and civilisations, Yunus and Grameen Bank have shown that the poor can work to bring about their own development.

The struggle against poverty is work for peace of the first order.
The aim must be peace with justice in the world. And justice means a life in dignity. The Norwegian Nobel Committee underlines that "lasting peace can not be achieved unless large population groups find ways in which to break out of poverty". Peace with justice must be built from below, by means to which Muhammad and Grameen Bank have contributed.

There is not just one way out of poverty. There are many. This year, however, the Norwegian Nobel Committee wants to draw attention especially to microcredit. This instrument has produced good results in Bangladesh. Over the past few decades the country has recorded considerable economic growth. Some of that growth is certainly due to the operations of Grameen Bank and other institutions in the microcredit field. It will be important to increase the use of this instrument.

Today the Norwegian Nobel Committee wishes to express its admiration for the work Muhammad and Grameen Bank have done for thousands upon thousands of ordinary people in Bangladesh and in many other countries. We hope the Peace Prize will be a source of inspiration in the continuing work for a world without poverty. That is not a goal we shall reach in the next few decades. But we are on the way. ... Tomorrow we shall hurry on together towards the goal of a world without poverty."

I wish you all good luck with the realizations of our dreams for a peaceful world for future generations! And for a prosperous Bangladesh! I salute the country of Bangladesh! I salute the people of Bangladesh! I salute Grameen Bank!

And last but not least: I salute you, my dear friend Muhammad. You are one of the most charismatic persons I have ever met! I admire your work!

I congratulate you all: Apnader Shobaikay Ushno Obhinondon. Thank you!