A champion of the poor

NOBEL laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus's vision is that of the total eradication of poverty from the world.

NOBEL laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus's vision is that of the total eradication of poverty from the world.

Yunus first became involved in fighting poverty during a famine in his own country Bangladesh in 1974. He discovered that very small loans could make a disproportionate difference to a poor person.

In South Africa to deliver this year's Nelson Mandela Lecture at Wits University tomorrow, Yunus said: "The lecture will tackle the global crisis, the eradication of poverty and how this can be achieved through investing in poor people." Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf delivered last year's lecture.

In an interview in Soweto this week, Yunus said when he started giving out loans to the poor, he handed out about R218 from his own pocket to women who made bamboo furniture in the village of Jobra, near ChittagongUniversity in Bangladesh.

So close is poverty alleviation to his heart that he later did the unthinkable: Yunus, an economist, started a bank to lend money to the poor.

Financial institutions would not lend to poor people as they considered them a high risk.

Today, Grameen Bank's formula of a "poor people's bank" is practised all over the world.

He is the bank's managing director.

"At least 97percent of our borrowers are women. The practice is working, as is evident in South Africa and other countries on the continent," Yunus said.

Yunus, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, said it was time for action and no more talkshops.

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