Developing Developed Nations – WAM UK Event with Prof. Yunus

Yunus on Bringing Grameen to the UK, 8th March, 2012 at Clifford Chance, London

by Lisa Wong, Media & Communication Design, WAM UK Steering Committee 

On the 8th of March 2012, International Women’s Day, Nobel Peace Prize winner and Banker to the Poor, Muhammad Yunus gave an inspiring address to a room full of over 200 professionals focusing on a simple message: microfinance can work, anywhere.

There have always been naysayers, he said. They first argued that Microfinance only works in Bangladesh, where Yunus first founded the now mainstreamed group-lending model with the Grameen Bank, because it’s this “different”, “weird” or “special” place. Now that Grameen works in 36 countries, with replicas in over 100 countries, these arguments appear weak, yet the developed nations remain sceptical.

Yunus, ever with a smile on his face, has come to debunk this myth that “microfinance won’t work in the UK” and is preparing to prove otherwise with the help of Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU).

Professor Pamela Gillies, Principal and Vice Chancellor of GCU and trustee of Grameen UK, opened Yunus’ speech with some shocking home truths: indicators suggest that more than half of the world’s working age population – that’s 2.5bn adults – do not have access to quality, affordable financial services.  Although the majority reside in emerging countries; in the UK alone statistics suggest that there are more than 1 million adults living in unbanked households. In pockets around the UK, there are communities with 3rd and 4th generation employment, where families live in continued cycles of welfare dependency. Moreover there are predatory lenders targeting these communities charging 400%, and sometimes as much as 3,000 %, APR.

In partnering with GCU, Grameen UK, aims to give people in difficult circumstances new opportunities; “most of the time people are made dependent…turned into passive beings. I want to find ways to encourage people to explore their capacities, to give them a chance to for self-help” elucidates Yunus. Grameen has worked everywhere else, he politely reminded the crowd, and so it can work here.

Grameen UK had dual goals: to encourage and support individuals to become independent of welfare and find jobs or start social businesses and to ensure that Grameen UK branches are self-sustaining social businesses. Grameen UK will offer loans (average size expected £1,000) in the usual group lending model to support income generating activities, offer savings with a partner bank, help customers build credit history, provide financial education and support the borrowers.

Closing the event with a heart felt plea and burgeoning enthusiasm, not to mention the experience and expertise to support the action plan against poverty in the UK, Yunus and GCU were on a mission to raise money for the Grameen UK pilot branch. Requiring £1 million in year 1 in donations, grants and interest-free loans, and a further £500,000 per year thereafter, the pilot branch in Scotland is expected to serve 1,500 borrowers with an assumed interest rate of 19.5% APR on a declining balance.  Already GCU has donated space to head quarter the NGO status Grameen UK and the existing new entity has found a voluntary CEO in Dr Martin Cheyne.

To support this bold initiative and prove that microfinance can work in the UK to address our first world poverty please spread the word – share this blog, visit the Grameen UK website and donate here.

WAM UK is incredibly proud to support Grameen UK and will endeavour to keep you posted on its developments. If you would like to get in touch with ideas on how to progress the initiatives please do not hesitate to contact us by email at wam.ukchapter@gmail.com.

For those who attended the event we thank you for sharing this special day with us, for those who couldn’t join us we hope this blog gave you an idea on some of the stirring debate and hope that you will enjoy some of the pictures of this event which are following soon!

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